AR; Wire agencies and PR

Looking at (online) news production from a perspective influenced by theories of political economy, Susan Forde and Jane Johnston show in a recent article “how wire agencies can become the de facto distributor of PR material.” It’s an interesting read in the latest Journalism Studies; I have two small points of comment.

First- instead of sampling newspapers or other media outlets, and trying to see what percentage of their contents came from wire agencies, the authors followed stories originating from “government and political [PR] offices,” e.g. the office of PM Julia Gillard. They then checked how the PR-releases are filtered (or not) by wire agencies, and then how newspapers pick up (or don’t) the agencies’ stories. What is interesting though is that stories published by such sources turned out to fall into one of 4 different categories: press releases, transcripts of press conferences, transcripts of speeches, and: transcripts of interviews with media.

Transcrips of interviews. So, in a Shyamalian turn of events, the study also seems to illustrate Luke Goode’s point on “metajournalism:” in a sense, there is no original journalism; everything in the press only builds on information previously available.

Second- Forde and Johnston do not overemphasize the normative principles underlying their study, but they do allude to “potentially negative implications for news diversity.” Wire agencies shouldn’t become de facto distributors of PR material, they seem to suggest, because this is likely to favour commercialism, to the detriment of the public good that journalism is supposed to serve.

I agree. But I was also reminded of John Hartley’s article from 2008, which tries to look at things in a broader perspective: maybe journalism as we know it today is only a transitional, temporary form; maybe we have to change our expectations towards journalism, and realize that in a world of hyperconnectivity, everyone might have to take on the responsibilities of editors – pretending otherwise would mean fooling ourselves.

Forde, Susan and Jane Johnston (2012): “The News Triumvirate – Public relations, wire agencies, and online copy” in Journalism Studies, iFirst Article, 1-17.

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