Over Half of News Stories are Spin

Independent journalists in Australia studied 2,203 news stories in ten different hard-copy Australian newspapers over a five day work week and found that nearly 55 percent of the stories analyzed were driven by some form of public relations. The most extreme paper was the Daily Telegraph, in which 70% of stories were triggered by some form of PR. The Sydney Morning Herald was the best at "only" 42 percent PR-driven stories. Journalists and editors explained the results by saying they are busier than ever, under-resourced, on deadline and under pressure. Many refused to even talk to the reporters investigating this story. Others who did talk asked to have their comments withdrawn out of fear of being reprimanded or fired. The study is part of an ongoing investigation called "Spinning the Media" by the Australian Centre for Independent Journalism and the University of Technology that examines the role the public relations plays in making the media.


I find this story somewhat misleading. An article on a new baby animal born at the local zoo is probably PR driven. A review of a new musical is most likely "driven by public relations" because the reviewer was probably invited by a PR person. Is that "spin?"

It should not be as a surprise that many news stories originate with a press release. Not all journalism is investigative. Press releases are a way for journalists to hear about things that aren't already public knowledge. Ideally the PR person sends a press release when the client has done something new or noteworthy. If the journalist agrees, a story might result. It can be a fairly straightforward process, lacking in spin.

Lastly, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Not all PR people represent corporate clients. Some represent nonprofits, authors, artists, documentary films, stray dog rescue groups, clothing drives for the homeless, etc. PR is good bang for the buck, and cash-strapped organizations often depend on PR to carry their message to their communities.

Not all journalism is investigative.

Yes, that's how PR people would like us to think about journalism, until we no longer know the difference. If a reviewer flat-out calls a play a turkey, how many more invitations will he get from that PR person?

Lastly, let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Not all PR people represent corporate clients.

So you admit that corporate clients deal in bathwater?

"News is what powerful people want to suppress. Everything else is advertising."


I'd say corporate clients quite often deal in bathwater - and in the case of publicly traded companies, liquids far more toxic than bathwater!

In the theater example, for what it's worth, a professional wouldn't last long in his or her position if he or she refuses to work with influential journalists. When a PR person and a reviewer have a good working relationship, the reviewer may notify the PR person that the review will not be positive, and the PR person can take steps to mitigate the bad news or suggest the producers correct the problems the reviewer identified for future performances. Thus there's no real 'losers' in that scenario. (In fact this plays out all the time in editorial reviews of technology products: bugs are identified and fixed.)

I'm not into reductionist views of the media ecosystem, but in my experience over the last 15 years or so, I've found that what hurts the journalism trade hurts the PR trade too...irreparably in some cases.

First the nonsense that suggests "non-profits" are somehow less biased than corporations is worse than absurd and proves my following point. Virtually all science news stories derive from press releases and 'on background briefing materials' sent to the media by special interest groups. If a story doesn't originate as special interest spin it rapidly becomes such as speical interest groups are very quick with the spin machines. Special interest groups and especially 'non-profits' are becoming ever more unaccountable for what they spin... as one major spokesman for ngo's has said... 'say what ever gets you a headline and apologize later if you are called to account for false statements. Headlines are prominent and the stories are read, no one reads retractions.'