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Stephanie Vorderlandwehr

11.15.2012

Based off the text Toxic Much: Public Relations: Abstract

The chapter “All the news that’s fit to print” highlights the reality of news media and its growing dependency on advertising revenue, corporation ownership, and public relations firms. The news industry has a growing number of threats and weaknesses that become opportunities and strengths for public relations firms which are discussed in the chapter by Stauber and Rampton (1995).

Journalism has long been revered as a government watchdog and a guardian of the public with an undeniably interesting image that lends itself to fiction well. The strength to unearth corruption like the Watergate scandal was one only the press could have. These traditional strengths of the news media are being called into question in recent decades, however. Hallahan states in this chapter that the increasing dependency of news teams on quick and easy news (often provided by public relations contacts) “‘cheapen[s] the value of their product,’” (p.196). And of course, the news media doesn’t want to expose its own corruption because of the increasing number of weakness and threats collapsing upon them from all sides.

One of the major weaknesses the news companies are facing is underpaid reporters. In this chapter, one journalist reveals that his paper asked him to fudge his time clock so they could underpay him without raising suspicion. Underpay becomes a real problem for many reporters especially once they reach their thirties and have families to support. Many leave the industry for better paying careers creating another weakness for journalism: a perpetually changing workforce resulting in a constant influx of new reporters resulting in a less tight knit community.

This less tight community and the low earnings of reporters presents an opportunity for public relation firms. If journalists have less of a bond to their fellow journalists they are more likely to participate in the actions of Dean Rotbart and his TJFR firm that sells information about journalists with the expressed goal of successful manipulation of that journalist. In a less extreme example, public relations firms can take advantage of the underpaid journalist with paid training opportunities. Du Pont, a chemical company, hired journalists for $250 each to participate in a training activity that functioned as practice for crisis management and media manipulation for public relation flacks. One journalist recounts the training experience by saying “‘I came out of there and I felt really disgusted that I had to earn money in this kind of way,’” (p.188).

Another weakness for journalists that functions as an opportunity for public relations firms is that on top of being underpaid, journalists are overworked. One of the main tools for a public relations practitioner is the press release giving public relations both strength and opportunity to influence news. This is due to companies buying out newspapers and treating the “editorial material [as] the grey matter that fills up the space between ads,’” says Donham (p.182). Staff is cut and the remaining journalists gain extra responsibilities. This is where the press release becomes easy news to break requiring little to no extra investigation on the part of the journalist. This is true for all forms of news, including the radio. Kalbe from KKIN praises RadioUSA as ‘“a life saver on a slow news day,’” (p.184). Because of this dynamic created by the weaknesses of the journalism industry and the strengths and opportunities of public relations, whole sections of news are “practically owned by public relations,” such as entertainment, food, and the automotive news factions. For television news, VNRs are used to deliver polished and raw news stories to news stations.

In the case of the VNR, a weakness for public relations firms emerges: deniability and potential anger from journalists. If journalists black list you or your public relations firm functioning for your clients becomes virtually impossible. One case of anger from the mews press over a VNR was the example in the chapter of King Hassan II. Hasan II of Morocco had an interview that was packaged and mailed to journalists and news casters that had been previously denied interview opportunities with him. Like an eager beaver, they snatched up the VNR and aired it without asking the question “why was this log given to me?” After the segments aired, many journalists were outraged claiming they had been tricked into supporting propaganda.

The threat facing news media of a shrinking industry was quite the opportunity for public relations firms. However, this increased demand and dependency for firms to have a close relationship with journalists has resulted in over saturation of public relations firms and their attempts to gain press for their clients. This creates a lot of noise that public relations practitioners must fight through in order to be heard. “Today the number of PR flacks in the United States outnumbers working journalists…a working reporter is deluged daily with dozens if not hundreds of phone calls, letters, faxes and now e-mailed press releases,” (p.183). Pam Berns expresses in the chapter just how “annoying and overwhelming” this is for the overworked and underpaid journalists (p.183).

The result of this relationship of dependency has culminated in a circle of protection for the media, the government, and public relations. The ownership of news by private companies, the noose of advertisement revenue, and the dependency on public relations has caused the news media to censor itself. Stauber and Rampton (1995) discuss this revelation in regards to the Dictating Content conference in 1992. Overall, many of the threats and weaknesses faced by the journalism industry has served as opportunity for public relations playing off of its strengths. The weaknesses associated with client need and journalist trust can occasionally become a problem. The continued expansion of public relations firms is also serving to threaten the prosperity of individual practitioners. However, the overall evolution of media in the past decades has largely served public relations firms and private companies while adding pressure to journalism as it once was: a free press and a government watchdog.

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