Category Archives: Jounalism

The doer alone learneth, and other stories

As public relations practitioners strive to be recognised as professionals, there is a worry that the industry is becoming increasingly detached from academic research, one of the essential elements of a recognised profession.

leather bound books

Read all about it!

Having spent the last six months putting together an argument for public relations academics’ need to engage with other academic disciplines, I now find myself ready to start again! Since settling into my first public relations job, on the back of an MA in the discipline, I have learned of a small gulf between the books and the practice. However, I am not here to extol the virtues of the noble theorists and lambaste the practitioners for not engaging in a meaningful dialogue with them.

Unacceptable in the 90s
Talking in the late 1990s – when Twitter sat as Mark Zuckerberg‘s un-germinated seed of an idea, as he  tried to master Atari BASIC programming, children stared at Tamogotchis rather than smartphones, and Take That were still split up along with every other so-called reunion band  resurrected by the desire to ensconce nostalgia for a decade when the Union flag wasn’t racist for a while – Gregg Philo promulgated:

It would be a sad irony if communication studies researchers only communicated with each other, and that if communications itself failed to lead a productive dialogue. (Philo, 1999)

I wrote in my MA dissertation that it is my belief that public relations becomes a stronger academic discipline when it is transgressive; cross-cutting sociology, psychology, anthropology, political science and media studies. Public relations theory gains a great deal when it engages with questions which concern other fields – this can be extended to the art of PR practice.

Many other disciplines have happily espoused academic theorem and the nuances of everyday practice to their benefit. Think medicine, business, and teaching.

What’s the point in educational institutions and personnel researching, debating, hypothesising and proving if it does not directly feed into the way the discipline is practiced? (Answers on a postcard).

The simple point is; the best theory is not informing most practice. The scary fact is; there doesn’t seem to be any knowledge of this in the sector, and no way of bridging the gap. The CIPR and its senior members would be the obvious solution. But they don’t seem to be doing enough.

The doer alone learneth
Sarah Williams, Senior lecturer in public relations and marketing at University of Wolverhampton, wrote this month on comms2point0: “The CIPR’s education division, under the direction of the wonderful Alan Rawel, was proactive in its support of academic endeavour and sought new ways of marrying education and practice; it supported the development of courses, books, journals and conferences aimed at creating a strong and united academic underpinning for the industry.

She has concerns that the institute has taken backward steps in recent years, and many others around the PR blogosphere tend to agree.

Much of this good work has been undone in recent years and many in the industry, both academics and practitioners, will be unaware of the work of this passionate and committed man. This is a great shame, and bad news for the industry; I regret that his legacy was not more carefully guarded and maintained.”

Alas, lest we not dwell on the past, like those who fill our cities arenas hoping to recapture their youth singing along to, Blue, Five and Atomic Kitten.

Let us engage with one another and hear what each other have to say.

Many in the ‘profession’ are not academically trained, or are trained in an alternative discipline such as journalism.
Education and academia is often a culture, in the sense of a way of life, and many do not and have not had such a background. Will these individuals be less likely to embrace a theoretic influence, or dare I say, might their reluctance stem from the fact they are unable to understand it? Maybe the academics need to stop sounding clever and start acting clever – showing a little more pragmatism.

Let’s start a dialogue in terms that include everybody. If we understand the theory, we should be able to discuss it, or teach it to anyone, regardless of their academic background or the depth of the vocabulary.

On the other hand, as a former teacher, I am only too aware of the frustration of trying to teach something to people who aren’t willing to learn it. Those with all the experience – but perhaps with a book shelf reserved for Jackie Collins, rather than Anne Gregory – could be more accepting and less defensive about learning.

Let’s just be friends
If we all want PR to be recognised as a profession, we will all have to accept that the practitioners need the academia, and the academics need to understand that the academia is futile without anyone to practice it. If our discipline doesn’t find a way to work together in a meaningful way it is never going to be recognised, nor will it be worthy of recognition as, a genuine profession in the same league as medicine, teaching or any other.

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The medium is the message; or, the machines are taking over.

As figures for online news consumption soar, and newspaper circulations dwindle, I consider the idea that social media acted as the catalyst to get the masses involved with reading online news.

1960s popular culture Image by Nesster

1960s popular culture
Image by Nesster

In 1964 there was a growing fear in the western world. The atom bomb? L.S.D? JFK? Maybe; but in particular, perhaps echoed in the other suggestions, there was an anxiety about machines taking over and making humans redundant, at least in employment terms, although, a night spent watching 1960’s movies would suggest unemployment was the least of their worries.

The relevance of Marshall McLuhan’s well-worn enigmatic paradox of smart-arsery is arguably (in the sense that I will put the argument to anyone that will listen) more poignant now than it ever was in the days of free-love. The medium is the message, just like Descartes’ ‘I think therefore I am’ has flattered many a media studies student, in the name of deceit; but I feel it goes a long way to describing the current state we find ourselves in.

It is the train journey that is important here, not the destination. Just like the automation McLuhan and his peers feared, could have ‘turned out cornflakes or Cadillacs’ it is not the social media platform itself, but the way humans use it. To use McLuhan’s idea; the machines, or the media or technology, are the extensions of man. That is; they only have meaning when they are understood as part of the human desire to give and receive messages – to communicate.

Image by vitalyzator

It’s about the train journey, not the platform. Social media is the transport not the destination. Image by vitalyzator

Social media has altered our relation with one another and to ourselves. It has changed the velocity, dynamics and scale of human interactions; and that is its message. ‘For the message of any medium is the change in scale or pace or pattern it introduces into human affairs.’ Just like McLuhan’s railway did not introduce movement or transportation or wheels into human society, yet managed to accelerate and enlarge the scale of previous human functions and, in turn create new kinds of cities for people to live and work in; social media has not introduced anything new into human society.

Social media did not introduce digital communication, but changed the pace and scale of human interaction, and as such, quite independently of what it was created to do, dissolved the need for printed information, and in turn, lubricated the demise of the traditional press.

I know that online news was around before the rise of social media, and that newspaper circulations were dropping too; but it was when the content started to fit around the way humans were consuming information that it really took off.  Sharing news through Twitter and Facebook has become easy to do – and we do it, a lot.

It’s as if the legitimacy of the press has been revitalised through the new ways we share and use it. Alistair Campbell wrote this last week:

“Here is the thing. People do not trust politicians like they used to. They don’t trust the media to tell the truth like they used to. They don’t trust banks or brands. So who do we trust? We trust each other.”

And that is my point. If we all value each others’ opinion more than the media, then the stories from the media will gain cultural value as they pass through us, as conduits for the traditional news story.

Is second hand news more valuable to us than stories direct from the news conglomerates?

Maybe, we trust each other to act as filters to hold back anything biased or challenging to our view of the world.

Lets take The Sun. As I write this the latest ABC figures show that, although their daily circulation remains at a healthy 2.2 million, its year-on-year change is down 13% compared to the online figure of +16%; The Guardian has almost 83 million monthly browsers, a 37% rise year-on-year. The Daily Mail‘s circulation is 1,787,577, down7.5%, where the Mail online attracts an average of 8.2 million daily browsers at a +47% year-on-year change; I could go on.

We do find it humorous to think of our silly descendants; so scared of technology and ignorant of change that they thought machines would take over their jobs. But maybe we should learn to take heed.

McLuhan warned us that it was the medium that was the message. He told us that the message was how a medium affects humans, and social media has affected the ways we choose to consume news. Social media has dissolved traditional journalism – machines have taken over after all!


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When sports journalists get political: the sensational case of Paolo Di Canio

Why let a proper news story get in the way of a good headline? Sensationalism in the press has long been a significant journalistic technique and recognised as a tried and tested tactic to sell copies of a newspaper. But does this compulsion to sensationalise reporting of events compromise the integrity of journalism?

The case of Paolo Di Canio

Unveiled as Sunderland manager

Unveiled as Sunderland manager

Paulo Di Canio was announced as the successor to the recently sacked Martin O’Neill on Easter Monday, which, in a show of calendaric rarity, also happened to be the 1st April; April Fools day. The position as Sunderland Head Coach was not Di Canio’s first managerial post; in fact it is his second in English football, following a spell in charge of Swindon Town FC.

However, unlike in 2011, this appointment has caused the media to hit the panic button on an epic scale. Where one would usually expect tributes to the former manager, mild outrage against foreign owners wielding swords of power, and questions over the tactical nuances of a top-flight rookie; all the press have concerned themselves with is alleged comments the man made 8 years ago, which he explained in his first press conference, and an official club statement as misrepresentative and out of context.

Asking the right questions

In the hours and days following the initial press conference the newspapers filled their websites, twitter feeds and front and back pages with speculation regarding the truth about the comments; the primary sources beginning and ending with Mr. Di Canio’s organised press conferences (which are standard fare at such embryonic stages of a new managers reign). The original source remains to my knowledge, un-translated and as such, unsubstantiated. The press have, however, published images of Di Canio saluting his own fans during his playing career, while at Lazio.

Di Canio celebrating with fans.

Di Canio celebrating with fans.

These pictures have become the basis for a campaign of hate, in the absence of any real investigation, and have been misrepresented as having connections to the Nazis. This is in conjunction with a dreadfully crass typecasting of several socio-political, historical parties, and a blind ignorance of the associated terminology and socio-political context.

The far right or far off the mark?

I would like to make clear that I am not condoning the actions carried out under the name of fascism in the past, but nor do I condone the actions of the press as they fail to differentiate between fascism and racially fueled hate crimes. Fascism is an ideology which is understood to mean a myriad of things to different people in various social and historical contexts.

We are talking about the comments of an elite sportsman, not a politician or academic. Why is it assumed Di Canio understands the connotations of his alleged comments, especially in a foreign cultural setting? He has clearly been instructed by the club’s press office to refuse to comment on any political issue – after all, he is a former footballer, not a political historian. How do we know for sure that everything he has read or heard outside of football isn’t understood in the paradigm of football discourse (probably the only thing he has ever known)? Refusing to deny outrageous accusations is being reported as if it were an admission of sympathising with the actions of evil by the press, and I expect more. It’s simply not good enough.

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Can you really afford Sky, cigarettes, bingo, drinks and other non-essentials?

Getting the correct message out is more important than ever in the digital era, where every disgruntled customer or offended passer-by has the potential to publish for a mass audience within seconds.

BBC news, along with several other print and online news sources reported on a story involving Eastland Homes and their attempt to engage with their customers over the subject of financial management.  Residents were quick to vent their anger on social media sites, ensuring their feelings of dissatisfaction became a national news story.



The Good

The company had clearly identified a potential problem for their 8,000 tenants with the introduction of the so-called bedroom tax and sent this out to inform people about the new changes to the welfare system which take effect this April. The advertisement, which appeared in their newsletter Streets Ahead, was intended to highlight their opposition to the tax and inform readers of the help and advise they would provide.

The Bad

But  within minutes a public backlash ensued, followed by an apology on their website which read: ‘We’re sorry if our article offended you.

We’ve lobbied continuously against the government cuts which threaten the quality of life for many of our customers.

We’ve increased the range of support and advice for anyone struggling in the face of these cuts as you will see from our newsletter.

We know there will be stark choices – our message is that we are here to help wherever possible and we’re sorry if we worded that clumsily.’

Surely, their key message was that they were offering an advice service. Good. Caring. Empathetic. However, their actual message, which as we know, is created in the eye of the beholder, was read as stereotyping, patronising, and degrading. Bad. Presumptuous. Detached.

and the Ugly

Unhappy customers are potential publishers with a mass audience

Unhappy customers are potential publishers with a mass audience.

Clumsy is an understatement. The residents took to the social media to announce their negative response at what they alleged as stereotyping, deeply patronising and contemptible.

This alerted journalists who published the story to a wider audience showing the power of online communications.

Companies of all types need to get the PR right in every communication they make. If they don’t there is nothing they can do about the whole world learning how people feel about it.  Of course, the story may have been reported in the local paper then picked up by a national (maybe), but the story would have been unlikely to gain so great a reach in so short time in a pre-digital media landscape.

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Brand Anarchy: Nevermind the generation gap!

Where does the future of PR lie?

I read Brand Anarchy this week, after waiting several weeks for the library to have a copy available for loan. Sat comfortably at home, I turned the front cover to reveal the contents page with much anticipation (for one, I had to wait for weeks for the pleasure) and intrigue; this would be the book that would bring it all together. This book would espouse the two most important things in my life at present. Like two arguing parents, to me they seem as if they should be perfectly happy together but they can’t quite get along and puzzling marriage guidance councillors are struggling to find ways for these soul-mates to reconcile and live happily ever after.

Here I refer to public relations and the so-called; social media. See? Even now I am bewildered to why I must refer to them as separate entities. Anyway…

On folding close the final page and laying down the book to rest on my unclean coffee table, being careful to avoid the freshly cast coffee cup ring, my wondering mind was prematurely stopped by thoughts of a generation gap…and worse still: The Sex Pistols (retrospectively, the title may have influenced my caffeine fuelled brain). My initial thoughts were that; I, the converted, had been preached to. The book seemed to prepare the reader for the influx of some immigrant force of social medias that would slowly but surely twist and turn everything one knew about public relations. Why? I thought, do me and my fellow PR students need to be warned about this? Why are people from the older generations trying to forewarn us about the way we communicate?

I stopped myself in my silly little tracks almost at once; took a metaphorical step back, walked into the kitchen, put the kettle on and had a rethink. This book was clearly written by the older generation, for the older generation. Brand Anarchy was written by experienced communications experts to get the rest of the industry up-to-date, up-to-speed and up-to-scratch, with how everyone but they are communicating with each other.

To my generation, and the generations in our wake social media is just an extension of our voice and our hands. We don’t consider the internet to be a media, like the radio or a newspaper; it’s much more than that, and much less to some extent; its natural, organic, and we’re not nostalgic about print because we’ve already seen off our CD’s, minidiscs, and I-pods. The velocity of technological advances is taken for granted, and they fit around our lives, we don’t fit our lives into them.

So, what am I trying to say? What I’m not trying to say is that youth is the way forward, and every PR office should have a philosophy of out with the old, in with the new; there are decades of priceless experience and knowledge and knowing social media is not understanding how it can be used to enhance a brand’s reputation. However, I do think there is a gap. What if the YouTube generation were taught how to get the strategy right, and to understand how social media fits into marketing and corporate communications?

Brand Anarchy is not, as first thought, people in their fifties who listened to the Sex Pistols knowing their parents could never ‘get it’ and then thirty years later trying to convince a teenager to play it on their I-pad. It’s recognition that PR was caught ‘on the hop’ (as the authors repeatedly remind the reader) and if they want the younger generations to listen to them they’d better start singing in the right venues.

What if we looked at it from the other way? How about a book, which takes social media for granted and explains the nuances of reputation building for the social media savvy? Could this be ‘The Son of Share This’?

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