The ‘PRisation’ of news and media literacy: an audience reception study

This source preferred by David McQueen and Dan Jackson

Authors: McQueen, D., Jackson, D. and Moloney, K.

Start date: 8 September 2011

There has been growing concern in recent years about the increasing influence of public relations on news content. The apparent blurring of the line between PR and journalism, has been described variously as ‘PRisation’ ; ‘churnalism’ and ‘fake news’ and there is increasing alarm over the implications of this development on the quality and scope of contemporary news reporting . However, while there is now a considerable body of evidence on the growth of PR sourced material in the news there has, as yet, been no substantial research into audience reception of and attitudes to PR-driven news stories. This paper presents the results of a study that examines audience readings of news stories with PR input across a range of news sources. It aimed to identify to what extent audiences were able, unprompted, to detect PR content in the news (what we call “PR literacy”). It also sets out to examine how far education, and especially media education, may sensitise audiences to the presence of PR influence in the news.

The study involves analysis of interviewee’s responses to PR-driven stories in a range of media that were probed by means of a questionnaire, interview and focus group discussion. The results provide the first sustained attempt to gain an understanding of audience perception of PR-driven news and attempts to link education levels and media education to an ability to detect and, if need be, resist covert PR influence in the news. As such the study addresses some of the central themes of the conference, particularly the impact of changing journalistic practice on the political and democratic life of communities and how seriously we should consider the encroachment of PR into our news.

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