The Global Mail, journalism and PR

May 14, 2012

A lot of people are writing about the troubles at The Global Mail. I left a rather long comment over at the Restless Capital blog, which I reproduce here:

Jason — great article, and I think you’ve hit on many of the issues that have stymied the Global Mail. However, the main one, that you’ve only alluded to, is that GM sat so outside of the current media model that it sidelined itself. (Mumbrella also touches on this.)

By this I refer to the symbiosis between journalists and public relations professionals. Over 60% of what appears on TV, radio and newspapers is driven by public relations. Most “interesting” non-random events and stories (e.g. natural disasters) are PR driven.

Attard said, in one of the interviews I heard, that she wanted to insulate GM from the daily barrage of PR media releases. Their unresponsive nature was due to wanting to avoid the influence of PR and media spinners.

Unfortunately, that’s how our news works. Journos get tips and insights from PR staffers and insiders. If you’re isolating yourself from that, you’re not going to get the juicy stories and exclusives. Investigative journalism can’t compensate for that.

This can explain the lack of content — they simply excluded themselves from the loop.

As a sessional lecturer in media management at VU, I can attest that every first year student is taught that journalism and PR go hand in hand since the dawn of time. Journalism has always been about filling the gaps between the ads.

There was never a golden age of journalism as imagined by Attard and the rest of the Global Mail crew (including Wood). Journalism and the media is an essential part of the promotion cycle — and it just doesn’t work without PR.

As you say, The Atlantic produces amazing content. But you can be the regular journalists on the books are tapped into the PR beltway — as I imagine the freelancers would be.

I think it’s worth repeating Gramsci’s critique of the journalistic profession:

I was never a professional journalist, who sells his pen to those offering more money, thereby being compelled to lie constantly as part of the trade. I was the freest of journalists, always of a single opinion and I have never had to hide my deep convictions just to please some boss or ruffian.

Gramsci of course was a revolutionary journalist before becoming a full-time Italian communist party activist. And its worth remembering that the various publications that Gramsci wrote for or edited struggled financially.

Attard seems to have a similar attitude to the media as Gramsci. She didn’t want to have to dance to the tune of the organ grinder, but instead be “free” to pursue the story.


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