Hook, Line and Sinker: Flack Trumps Hack in the Age
Journalists regard PR practitioners as mercenary bottom feeders and, while I can’t disagree with the sentiment, I resent the supercilious tone that invariably accompanies it.
That said, if a journalist who spent his or her life dodging bullets and syphilis in war and disaster zones saw fit to rant against the public relations profession, I would be hard pressed to object. Fair cop in that case. However, we all know that the vast bulk of working reporters are not baked in such heroic tins. Far from it. Most journalists, like the majority of any given profession, are pretty mediocre. And one way mediocrity in journalism stands out like canine testes is the degree to which it succumbs to the transparent trickery of the very PR flacks they so noisily detest. If “spinning” or “shilling” for evil corporate clients is morally abject, then surely reporting the product of such spin and shill as news is many degrees worse.
There is a great example of this in today’s Age which I tend to pick on only because I can’t bring myself to read the Herald Sun, its tabloid competitor in Melbourne.
The story is titled Australia world’s ‘Dumb Blond’ and, if the website is any guide, features quite prominently in Thursday morning’s edition of the Age. This is such an extreme example of public relations trumping journalism, I suggest you read the full catastrophe if you can stomach it. For those who can’t, here’s the snapshot: A UK branding guru says Australia’s “brand” suffers in general because people he surveys think that the country is attractive but shallow and unintellectual; further, Indians are less favorably disposed to the place because of high profile reports of widespread racism targeting migrant students.
I ask you: how does this qualify as news, even if this were the quietest news day imaginable? An uneventful Sunday, say, between Christmas and New Year. In the Chatham Islands.
The answer is it doesn’t. If Dan Harrison, the reporter who gamely added his byline to the story, didn’t fall for every trick in the PR book of tricks, it was only because he ran out of time. Let’s spell it out in case he is a self-Googler (Hello, Fran Wilde. Fran Wilde. Fran Wilde).
First things first, and as politely as possible: a survey about national branding funded by a branding agency is not credible, let alone newsworthy. Would you publish the findings of research paid for by Krispy Kreme citing as seven the optimal number of donuts per sitting?
Secondly, the fact that other news outlets have fallen for this bill of goods is no excuse. I note this same “guru” has a good thing going in Africa and other parts of the developing world talking bullshit about branding to governments that should be, I don’t know, feeding, or at least not oppressing, their populations. Somebody else’s gullibility or poor news judgment does not excuse yours.
Third, even if the survey were credible, did you really need research to tell you that Australians are regarded as non-intellectual hotties? There are as-yet undiscovered tribespeople in the depths of the Amazon who believe this about Australia. Furthermore, does it really surprise that Indians admire Australia somewhat less in surveys AFTER high-profile racial incidents involving Indians than they did BEFORE high-profile racial incidents involving Indians?
Finally, did you bother looking at anything else this dude had to say about Australia? You only need go as far as his Wiki-fucking-pedia page to see him quoted praising Crocodile Dundee as great for the national brand because it portrays Aussies as “funny, courageous, outdoorsy, and clever”. This, the same chap who today lectures us to the effect that:
Australia needs to do is to invest in the sectors which demonstrate its seriousness and its capability and education is one of them.
Global Branding Expert a Complete Fraud: now there’s a story.