Tuesday, April 20, 2010

On Media Bias and PR Spin

The content of this post comes courtesy of my colleague, Sam Burritt. Thank you Sam!

A brilliant mind, a brillant writer and all round brilliant thinker. Glad he is my team.

On Media Bias

"I think it's too easy to blame the obvious political bias in the media on the temperament most often personified by opposing ends of the political spectrum, though as a good lefty that's my first instinct. I tend to view the sound and the fury emanating from those bastions of right-wing vitriol as- rightly, I feel- signifying nothing, and thus not worthy of my serious attention. But this sells short the sheer power of it; Rush and Fox et al pay their audience with the currency of fear and passion, and it earns dividends. As a PR guy, I know people respond to these emotions much more viscerally than to a well-reasoned argument, and that perpetuates the echo chamber. The left has actively ceded this position- even Air America and the Daily Show rely more on nuance than bluster- and it has its efforts compounded by conservative programming that paints it as too effete and intellectual to appeal to the average american.

Speaking again from a PR perspective, everyone has an agenda, including those that gather and report the news. And while the Woodward and Bernstien generation of reporters is reaching their lion's status, the media conglomerates that pay them are becoming larger, more corporate, and more Republican. This isn't a universal trend (see NYT, editorial board, Sulzberger family), but the correlation between the big business-ification of news gathering and the right-leaning trend of editorial boards is hard to ignore. It's only at single-ownership papers like the Times, or at newspapers that give the newsroom some ownership control (like the St. Petersberg Times did, at least until recently) that you see true impartiality and even sometimes a leftward slant.

The rest of the left is relegated to the blogosphere, which is powerful and ascendant, but ultimately still reliant upon traditional news sources. "Old" media still beats the blogs to scoops by more than 2.5 hours, according to recent statistics, which means that even though online news is usually more opinion-driven, it still receives news first gathered by sources paid for by gargantuan business interests. And let's not forget that the internet isn't the sole purview of the left (maybe if Al Gore had actually invented it...); conservative voices come through loud and clear.

Neither an internet teeming with competing perspectives nor a traditional media structure balanced, in a sense, by equal numbers of Keith Olbermann-Sean Hannity news-opinion hybrids will replace the need for a robust, independent, unbiased fourth estate.

What may serve the left better than breeding a generation of Rush competitors would be encouraging the rise of ideology-impaired newspeople. But then you have to ask: who's going to pay them? And has the right succeeded in polarizing American society to the point that such professionalism is unattainable?

PR at its worst specializes in inducing spin; is that what we're condemned to?

No comments:

Post a Comment