How Corporate money power controls the message
“Invasion of Corporate News”, an exhaustively researched article by Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson published by the Financial Times (FT), London, documents how social media is allowing big business to bypass mainstream media to reach and influence people directly. This means that you, the reader, need to learn to differentiate between an independent, well-researched point of view, and an embedded public relations plug—whether it is on television, in your favourite newspaper or on social media. Here is a primer culled from the FT report.
Brand Journalism: A new form of reporting is one that’s produced by companies and tailored to project a company’s point of view. Companies hire professional journalists to produce these polished reports, so that the ordinary reader is unable to see them as PR plugs.
FT cites the example of oil major Chevron, which runs a hyper-local digital news brand at Richmond, California (where it is headquartered). While it publishes mainly feel-good news, it also helps gloss over allegations about environmental damage. In India, Reliance Industries has hired a team of senior journalists to ‘manage’ its social media image, publish videos and books, to project its point of view.
Churnalism: This is the process where PR agencies create slickly produced content that is released directly to people through social media, YouTube, etc, as news. Interestingly, loss-making mainstream media is often happy to ‘embed’ these videos and photographs in their reports, making it a win-win for corporate PR.
The report cites the examples of Apple’s iPhone6 launch (fully choreographed with live blogging, perfectly lit images and gushing endorsements from celebrities being re-tweeted) and Microsoft introducing Indian-born CEO Satya Nadella to the media in a similar manner. The head of General Motors recorded an emotive YouTube video of her reaction to faulty ignition leading to fatal crashes prior to appearing before the US Congress hearing.
Native Advertising a.k.a Paid News: Advertisements made to look like a genuine news story or video where the reader cannot know the difference. This is called native advertising and is rampant in India, too, having been pioneered by our biggest media house.
Owned Media: The whole gamut of direct corporate communication through social media, twitter, blogs or direct-speak by celebrity business corporate honchos, such as Richard Branson, who have millions of followers on social media. These CEOs don’t need mainstream media to get their message out anymore. Prime minister Narendra Modi used this brilliantly to craft a thumping election victory.
Interestingly, while the Editors Guild of India has written to the PM to provide more meaningful access to the media, FT says this is a global phenomenon. It says, “… from White House to Wall Street, journalists protest that they are getting less meaningful access to those in power than ever.”