21st Century PR: When All Else Fails, Pretend You’re a Journalist

Despite all the wailing and gnashing of teeth about fake news, biased journalism, and journalists as “very bad people“, the very people complaining the loudest about the press seem to be those who are most adept at manipulating it. Take for example, the current President of the United States, who employs a combination of direct to consumer social media tactics, and also maintains strong relationships with non-professiona,l we-cannot-really-call-them (cough cough) news organizations like infowars, in order to perform the idea of news while supplanting the actual purpose entirely.

A yellow plastic fish caught in a net hangs against a grey cubicle wall
“Fake fish, fake lomo” by Patrick Fitzgerald. CC-BY 2.0. Available from Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/barelyfitz/34407290

Exhibit number two is none other than the current premier of Ontario Doug Ford, who actually has his own PR people follow him around recording news stories, I mean propaganda, that helps portray him in a positive light and further his agenda.

And this tactic isn’t just for politicians. Last week I entertained myself watching the 2018 Crossfit Games (how is this even a sport? But I digress). One of the most interesting things about the Games as a critical media theorist was the way they were presented. Though they were broadcast by CBS Sports, there were no CBS sportscasters involved in the broadcast. Instead, all the commentators, announcers, and even the video people were all current or former crossfitters who are deeply embedded within the organization. Now while I recognize that it is common practice to have at least one or two former athletes as commentators during a sporting event, the scope of insiders embedded in the production of the televised games (and the “documentary” produced every year following the games) reaches new heights with this organization.

Now all three of these cases involve individuals or organizations that come under some level of scrutiny or critique in the mainstream press. Crossfit has come under fire for safety, and more recently for the presence of PED’s in the sport. Critiques against Trump are well known, so I won’t rehash them here, and Doug Ford has been subjected to both personal and political critique. But, it can be argued, any person or organization in the public eye will have their detractors. The key is, in a democratic society, we should address the concerns levied against us, not create our own media system to circumvent them entirely.

Participatory media allows anyone to produce and spread their message to millions of other people. Now what we’re seeing is those with the power and the money can create very slick messages that look and sound like journalism, but are crucially different. WIth the actual news industry under tremendous stress from both technological and business factors, it is all to easy to organizations to run with the news that is already pre-created, and much more slick than a press release. This is 21st century PR: If you don’t like what the news is saying about you, make the news yourself.

Fake news is a term that has recently been subject to it’s own series of very solid critiques, which I won’t rehash here. But I will say that the term fake news should probably be used for those people who impersonate the news, for their own gain. This is the propaganda that we should be most concerned with. It is insidious, it is increasing, and it is already being shared by all of us.

21st Century PR: When All Else Fails, Pretend You’re a Journalist

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