PR industry stands up for itself...

Nick Davies' controversial book on the negative effects of PR has caused an industry stir.

Top PR people this week moved to defend their industry against claims that it is negati-vely influencing the global news agenda.

Senior figures spoke out as Flat Earth News, the controversial book by Guardian journalist Nick Davies, was due to hit the shops.

Davies' exposé of ‘falsehood, distortion and propaganda in the global media' rec­eived widespread coverage this week.

The book states that ‘churnalism' has rep­laced ‘real' journalism. Davies complains of ‘pseudo events manufactured by the PR ind­ustry' and global news stories ‘generated by a new machinery of international propaganda'.

But his claims have been rejected by many in the PR industry.

‘Rainier's clients appear in the national newspapers regularly,' said Rainier MD Stephen Waddington. ‘In more than 75 per cent of cases it is because we offer comment from clients in res­ponse to an off-diary news story.

To suggest that PR agencies drive newsroom agendas is wrong. In the current news climate driving a story on to the natio­nal news agenda is bloody tough.'

Research by the Journalism Studies group at Cardiff University found that:

-- Eighty per cent of home news stories within national newspapers are at least partly influenced by PR and wire copy.

-- While the number of journalists in the national press has remained fairly static, they now produce three times as much copy as they did 20 years ago.

-- Nineteen per cent of newspaper stories and 17 per cent of broadcast stories were derived mainly or wholly from PR material, while fewer than half the stories appeared to be entirely independent of traceable PR.

-- Only half the stories in the press sample made a visible attempt to contextualise or verify the main source of information in the story. Broadcast news does better, with 42 per cent of cases involving thorough contextualisation or verification.

-- The main source of PR is the corporate/business world, which is more than three times more successful than NGOs, charities and civic groups at getting material into
the news.

-- The most PR-influenced topic was health, followed closely by consumer/business news and entertainment/sport. Politics appeared to be less reliant on PR. This may be because ‘government PR leaves fewer traces'.

-- Only two of the journalists contacted claimed that public relations material never influences their work. Most (28 out of 42) stated that PR informs their stories ‘sometimes', and the remaining 12
said they use it ‘often'.

-- Sixty per cent of press articles and 34 per cent of broadcast stories came wholly or mainly from ‘pre-packaged' sources:
PR and newswire copy.

... and PRCA and CIPR join in the row
he CIPR and PRCA have joined the argument, insisting that changes in journalists' working days have not affected relationships with PROs.

‘It is insulting to both journalists and PROs to suggest that PROs man­ipulate content,' argued PRCA chairman Ric­hard Houghton.

He added that relationships with PROs have altered due to advances in the channels of communication. ‘It is naïve to think you can get coverage without effort,' he said.

CIPR president Elisabeth Lewis-Jones said PROs could help create more accurate stories, as journalists have far less time themselves.

‘Ten years ago loads of journalists would attend a press conference, now they haven't the time,' she said.

BOOK EXTRACT: ‘Journalism has been replaced by churnalism'
‘Dog doesn't eat dog. That's always been the rule in Fleet Street. We dig
into the world of politics and finance and sport and policing and entertainment. We dig wherever we like - but not in our own back garden. This book is a brazen attempt to break that rule.

‘I commissioned specialist researchers from the University of Cardiff to investigate a sample of stories in The Times, The Guardian, The Independent, The Daily Telegraph and the Daily Mail...

They found that a massive 60 per cent of these quality print stories consisted wholly or mai­nly of wire copy and/or PR material. They went on to look at those stories which relied on a specific statement of fact and found that with a staggering 70 per cent of them, the claimed fact passed into print without any corroboration at all... Journalism has been replaced by what some now call "churnalism".'

Extract from Flat Earth News, by Nick Davies (published 7 February by Chatto & Windus, £17.99)

Phil Hall
Founder, Phil Hall Associates

‘I think Nick is being unfair to all sides. PR is much more sophisticated than it was. In the past it was amateurish and easily dismissed. Now it has real gravitas. Journalists are not naïve, they check if something has been properly researched. It would be legal suicide otherwise.'

Sally Costerton
Chief executive, Hill & Knowlton

‘Consumers have a vastly increased choice that allows them to personalise their media consumption - they are no longer reliant on a single editorial view.
There is room for all, and
if Nick Davies' book encourages publishers
and editors to challenge themselves on how thoroughly they interrogate their sources - that can
only be a good thing.'

Kevin Murray
Chairman, Bell Pottinger Group

‘Journalists are under more pressure rather than being lazier. There is a drive for efficiency and quantity, creating a voracious media, which is good for communication. But PROs are more open and transparent than ever. We live in a fishbowl of transparency, which makes it stupid to lie. Chatham House rules are archaic, it is glass house rules now.'

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