- Reporters Desk
Knowing the difference between PR and reporting in the digital era
By James Preston Allen, Publisher
Today we get inundated with messages–email, text, video and infomercial solicitations. A seemingly endless supply of bloggers, social media hucksters, hired public relations gurus, and political mouthpieces sending out a steady rain of unfiltered or highly filtered messages to sway you this way or that. Much of this “digital rain” comes from the users, like on Facebook or Yelp, who provide unpaid content. Facebook, especially, has become such an obsessive/compulsive adopter of content that many users are either turning off their accounts or abstaining from their use of this medium. Last month a Princeton University team of researchers released a study that projects that Facebook will lose 80 percent of its peak users base in the next three years.
Because of technological advances easing communication to masses of people online, politicians have been producing their own social media messages and e-newsletters. They even sponsor local publications like the Long Beach Post, all with the intent of shaping public opinion from their perspective. It is not surprising then that there is some distrust of this media and often some argument over who it serves. It
is not surprising then that there is some distrust of this media and often some argument over who it serves. It even calls into question the definition of the Fourth Estate and what role it should play in a democracy, in which its traditional role was to watch the other three estates of government– the administrative, legislative and judicial. In the past, people depended on independent news media to be the watchdog on government corruption and abuse. But as we have seen over the last 40 years, the number of independent newspapers and media companies has dwindled, leaving behind mostly consolidated media corporations, like Fox News/Murdock’s News Corp, that now form a kind of media monopoly of the news.
As author Ben Bagdikian wrote in Media Monopoly, in 1983 there were 50 corporations that controlled the majority of the news in America. Now there are just five, as explained in his followup book The New Media Monopoly: Time Warner, Disney, Murdoch’s News Corp., Viacom (formerly CBS) and Bertelsmann of Germany. These are names we all recognize. They control the newspapers, radio, TV and films.
And then there are corporations like Live Nation Entertainment, which was formed after the merger of Live Nation and Ticketmaster, which have come to control a huge number of live performance venues and ticket transactions. Corporations such as these only compete with a few other large corporations like Anschutz Entertainment Group, the controlling interest of L.A. Live and Comcast. The concentrated control of live concert venues is just one more part of the greater media monopoly occurring in North America–a monopoly that is controlling our culture.
Yet, in between all of these power mergers and media consolidations, there are still a few thousand independents left and we still stand for something very important in the life of communities like this one. In fact, the majority of independent publication belong to the Association of Alternative Newsmedia, a trade group to which we belong to here at Random Lengths.
Contrary to what some may think, it really does matter who owns the media and that there are a variety of perspectives from which to derive one’s own perspective. The most important role that an honest publication can play is as a distiller, into some comprehensible format enough, of the chaos caused by digital rain– whether it be political blogs, advertising driven drivel or propaganda– and provide you the reader with a modicum of truth. This, I believe, is our bond with you the reader and it is a dedication driven by what we believe is in the best interest of the common good.
To this end, content does matter. Content that has been investigated, reported, edited–filtering out the irrelevant from the relevant– to give you what’s known to be fact as opposed to rumor, gossip or just repeating some badly written public relations piece. And believe me there is plenty of bad public relations writing going on these days.
In the end you must ask yourself the same question that I’ve had to wrestle with over the past 34 years that I’ve been publisher, and that is what is the media’s role–to turn our readers into mindless consumers or into better informed citizens. The answer to that is to make better informed citizens and more knowledgeable consumers. Anyone who has read this paper more than once knows that. However, I also acknowledge the role of a vibrant and locally centered economy that supports the vitality of this community as well. I do not see any conflict between our shop local promotions and our independent editorial positions.
What I do challenge are publications on every level that sell their editorial coverage and claim it’s not prostitution or the offering of regular free column space to politicians who are quite capable of communicating on their own. This phenomenon has becomes an unholy form of collusion between government and the press which leans towards propaganda and eventually corrupts both the pawn and the master. You do have a choice in this, especially locally. You do have a voice in this. Let me hear from you.