News Media as a PR Exercise
About 50% of the news is based on PR in various forms – press releases converted into news material are well known, but a lot of advertising is also done in news media. This is “stealth advertising,” ads disguised as news, and can cover anything from celebrity sex toys to pure gossip.
Media beat-ups aren’t exactly new, but the methodology for saturating the airwaves and online media with anything and everything handled by PR agencies is now a major industry in its own right. Many people feel that it’s a corrupting influence, manipulating the news and shutting out important information in the process.
There’s some justification to that view. The distinction between “news” as it’s usually understood and “PR news” needs to be explained. The real news is the material handled by journalists, breaking world events, etc. The PR news is essentially a merchandising exercise, related to new movies, products, or whatever.
Typically, “PR news” takes up a lot of space in the tabloids. It’s less noticeable in the mainstream major league news media, but it’s there in one form or another. The news media take the view that this material, trivial or otherwise, is basically reader-pulling material, and will generally assess it on the basis of readership values.
Whether or not it deserves to be in the news at all is debatable. After all, there are literally tens of millions of other outlets, better focused, like celebrity sites, magazines, etc. which can run this material to a targeted audience. Demographically, however, the fact is that the mainstream news audience is much bigger. That’s a deciding factor in marketing, and irritating as it is, it’s also the basis of seeing more of some people than you see of wars or natural disasters.
The other side of the issue: the need for non-news
There’s a further consideration, in fairness, that has to be addressed. News audiences do need more than just headlines, and a diet of pure undiluted news can upset anyone’s digestion. The newspapers and TV news media long ago decided to lighten things up a bit with extra materials and expand their range, as well as diluting the effects of pure news. Non-news, or “discretionary news”, does provide value to audiences. It’s a matter of how much value, and to whom.
It’s easy enough to argue that a war deserves priority over someone’s wardrobe malfunction or new endorsement deal. It does. The fact is that news is transitory, and people need relief. During the Depression, the emphasis was on happier themes. During the Second World War, the media emphasis was on romance and optimism, if mixed with a massive dose of propaganda. It should also be noted that a lot of mainstream news is also a form of PR, with politicians explaining themselves or bankers putting some spin on new rates and charges. The line isn’t quite as clear as it’s made out to be.
The fact is that news, in any sense, is what people consider to be information of value. Solve that issue, and you’ll have a definition of “news” that will suit everyone.