In the United States (I haven’t been able to find and comparable Canadian figures. What little I have found suggests data is similar.) the number of journalists has declined 17% between 2004 and 2013, while the number of public relations specialists has increased by 22%. (see http://www.mondaynote.com/2014/09/21/brace-for-the-corporate-journalism-wave/) The median income for journalists is $35,600, while the median income for public relations specialists is $54,940. (see http://contently.net/2014/09/02/stories/public-relations-salaries-increase-journalism-salaries-cant-even-keep-inflation/ ) It’s no wonder then that as more and more journalists get laid off as the result of downsizing or newspapers folding that they are migrating to corporate journalism. Even those who still have jobs within journalism have been leaving seeing no future for them.
In sort of a mirror image of them, public relations and communications agencies along with a growing number of companies have been setting up fully staffed newsrooms, which mimic those of regular media. These newsrooms seek tell favorable stories about themselves or their clients.
So what exactly is corporate journalism and how does it differ from regular journalism. Regular journalism seeks to report on events and examine/investigate issues independently of businesses and other organizations, including government. On the other hand corporate journalism seeks to report on events and examine issues in a way that is favorable to business. Corporate journalism will seek to restrict access to information and individuals, while regular journalism will seek to get around this. When a bad event happens, corporate journalism will seek to downplay or suppress it.
There has always been a struggle between journalism and advertising. If you’ve ever read 19th century newspapers you see this readily. There are ads that mimic regular news and regular news that amounted to advertising. In the 1920s most financial journalists were on the take. They were paid to write favorable stories about certain stocks. However, standards were evolved to try to keep advertising and journalism separate.
Over the years various organizations such as government agencies, businesses (railroads, airlines, insurance companies, manufacturers), museums and clubs have produced their own magazines for public consumption. All had an obvious bias.
Today things have gone further. In Richmond, California the local newspaper has been replaced by an online paper financed and run by Chevron Oil. It’s slick and polished and slants news in favor of Chevron. According to Grist, “...it’s a Chevron propaganda rag that’s run and written by the company’s flacks.” (see http://grist.org/news/chevron-creates-its-own-news-outlet-for-a-poor-city-that-it-pollutes/)
In September Money And Markets, the online newsletter of Weiss Research, complained about how Apple has the investment media eating out of its hands. The media just fawns over the latest product release from Apple and have become part of Apple’s marketing machine. I’ve noticed that even the non-investment media also seems to have been drawn into Apple. This is without Apple having to shell out a dime for such publicity. (see http://www.moneyandmarkets.com/journalists-addicted-apple-66027#.VI9JQGd0zX4)
Writing in The Dark Side Of Corporate Journalism, Arthur E. Rowse said, “Today’s media complex is drunk with economic and political power. Making money seems to come before making sense of the world.”
The downside of all this is that the media gets corrupted into being the mouthpiece of business (and government and organizations), undermining freedom of the press. Issues, like climate change, corporate donations and pay inequity either get ignored or downplayed as real discussion gets suppressed and fluff gets passed off as journalism.
This is not only bad for the public, but also bad for business. If only an approved view is what gets talked about weaknesses get brushed aside, which can ultimately prove fatal. One of the prime reasons corporate journalism tries to mimic regular journalism is that regular journalism is trusted and while businesses is not. Yet the process ultimately undermines the trust and credibility of regular journalism. What creates trust in regular journalism is freedom from outside interference.
Can corporate journalism and regular journalism co-exist? Yes, but not at the expense of regular journalism. I’ll have more to say on this in the future.