By way of the Articles of Style blog comes an anecdote on more media rigging, this time of a commercial nature:
The thing about magazines is that they are full of paid advertisements. Not just the pages and pages of “ads”, I mean the articles and editorials themselves. I have a colleague who works for a major magazine (both of which will remain nameless) who was in LA about a month ago for a celebrity interview in Hollywood. As we usually do, we had a long dinner and drinking session where we shared our thoughts and practices on all things regarding the business of editorial and publishing.
Over some fire grilled fish tacos he basically tells me that (at the major menswear magazine) they don’t begin a story until they have a paid sponsor. “We have a list of high-level editorial ideas, lined with fitting potential sponsors, and the sales team hits the phones to see who’s willing to pay the most for the product placement or mention. Once the money is there and we the product from the brand is confirmed…then we hire the stylist, model, writer, etc. to bring the story to life”.
This reminds me of a similar anecdote shared with me by a friend in the financial industry. He was explaining to me the relationship between PR firms and the financial news media. He explained that much of the “news” we consume in publications like the WSJ, NYT, etc., are actually drafted by PR firms who do the research and assemble the voices in the articles, most or all of whom are their paid clients. When the media need coverage of some event or recent development, they turn to the PR firms for ready-made stories complete with expert testimony strewn throughout. The media company will edit the article where necessary and then slap its journalist’s by-line on the article. Oftentimes, they don’t even edit the stories and publish them as provided.
The media outlets like this because they’re trying to reduce their costs and keep up with the 24-hour news cycle. The PR firms serve special, niche interests (their paid customers) and so can “be everywhere” news is happening, whereas it isn’t economically scalable to have paid journalists complete with intelligent source-networks all around the world where news might be happening. Meanwhile, the PR firms like this because it gets their clients exposure as an “expert” in a major public forum. Not only does it add credibility to a resume and generate search interest in the client mentioned, it could also subtly sway the agenda on the topic du jour which might be desirable for the client to have readers thinking a certain way.
If it really works the way it’s mentioned in the AoS blog post, and as my friend related to me (and I think it does), it puts the “news” in new light and certainly complicates the gatekeeper role of the media and the idea of an informed electorate. At least, it complicates it for statists who believe in this fantasy system and the way it supposedly functions. It doesn’t complicate anything for me.