Public relations academic writing is, so far, mercifully free of the excruciating prose of many social sciences, literary theories and other sources of incomprehensible and impenetrable thought even if it does follow what someone once described as the ‘barbaric’ social sciences referencing and bibliographic systems.
The Americanisation of Australian politics is exemplified by the growing number of think tanks here – although thankfully so far some Australian ones are generally more transparent and more independent than their US counterparts.
The Institute of Public Affairs 70th anniversary dinner (the blog didn’t attend and wasn’t invited) is an example of the problems which can arise. Personally, despite being opposed to much IPA thinking, I find many of their ideas interesting and worthy of debate. Director, John Roskam, presents some interesting ideas in between the ideologically-driven stuff (such as his AFR columns at the start of the GFC calling for dramatic cutbacks in government spending) and Chris Berg has some challenging thoughts about the nanny state and the health thought police. However, the IPA doesn’t disclose details of donors or supporters so, when they publish a viewpoint on some issue or other, you can’t check whether someone who might benefit from it helped make it possible. This is not to suggest that the IPA colours its views to that of its donors but rather to highlight the fact that the general policy of disclosure of interests practised in most media outlets and academic journals is not followed by the IPA. That general policy is simply a matter of transparency.
It has now been well-established by research that people who watch Fox News in the US are more likely to be wrong about things more often than those who don’t.
This is not suggesting that the relationship is causal as it might be a matter of people who are likely to be wrong on things choosing to watch Fox News rather than Fox News promulgating the errors. Or, of course, it could also be a bit of both.
Easter is a perfect time for reflection about the big questions of life, humanity and history – like for instance whether it was Christianity which destroyed the Roman Empire.
It had been a popular belief among many historians, in particular Edward Gibbon, who blamed the spread of Christianity and monasticism for the decline and fall. However, whatever the reasons for the Empire’s end, it is clear that Christianity converted what was a relatively diverse and tolerant Empire into one in which intolerance and ideological rigidity became paramount. In his book AD 381(Pimlico) Charles Freeman describes how Theodosius, the Eastern Emperor, issued decrees which were the beginning of more than a thousand years of intolerance driven by imperial political priorities rather than religion (even if the Christians caught on the intolerance stuff pretty quickly). In an earlier book, The Closing of the Western Mind (Pimlico), Freeman describes the effect of bringing to an end the diversity of religious and philosophical beliefs which flourished under the Empire.
More news on the train wreck which seems to be approaching for some recent psychological research and another warning for those in the communication business using some of its research outputs.
A paper has been published on PLOS ONE, a leading open science online journal. (www.plosone.org) The paper details are less relevant than the subsequent discussion. However, it appears the paper was trying to establish whether studying science makes you a better person. Now the automatic reaction to any question like that – whether it be about science, the humanities, law or psychology – is that George Steiner settled the matter in an aphorism about concentration camp guards and culture which removed the need for any large scale studies forever. But whether the study was necessary or not it is expected to reach certain standards.
One of the most productive changes in the study of PR in recent years has been the new emphasis on both the history of the industry and how it relates to broader approaches to history.
For many years the standard PR historical summaries emphasised its US origins, a few ‘Great Men’ who acted as pioneers and the antiquarian search for the first uses of the words ‘public relations’. This was forced into an artificial evolutionary model progressing from press agentry to publicity to profession. It was the PR industry’s version of the Whig interpretation of history.
When PR people judge how well a PR campaign has done the degree of difficulty is often a major factor in weighing the merits of various projects. But there’s not so much attention to the easiest jobs and campaigns.
Currently doing PR for Tony Abbott would have to be up there among the easy ones. Just do nothing and craft a few populist sound bites and you will soon be advising a PM. Admittedly there would always be that worry that he might say or do something really, really stupid. But even then there is always the safety net that News Limited and the shock jocks provide. After all, imagine a situation in which the toughest questions you get all day from the interviews you arrange are zingers like: Do you think Julia Gillard should resign today or next week? Just how dishonest and incompetent do you think she is?
One of the best things about the media and Anzac Day, the Anzac Day Media Style Guide, has been updated for 2013.
It is an invaluable tool for getting some of the basic facts right. That’s a much-needed antidote to some of the nonsense that gets reported and which some politicians spout.
The guide is available for download via the following websites:
Reputation management is making a comeback – except this time it is more for individuals than for organisations and has a new technological base.
There is an irony in this as the concept of ‘reputation’ had its origins in early modern history around notions of reputation and honour. J.H.Elliott, in his new book History in the Making (Yale University Press), remarks that when he first began investigating Spanish history he was struck by the frequency with which the word ‘reputacion’ surfaced in the political literature of the Spanish Golden Age period and the discussions in the Spanish Council of State. The concept, he says, “was bound up with the complex notions of honour that prevailed in early modern societies, and involved the standing and reputation of Spain and its monarch in the eyes of both contemporaries and of posterity”. It still has many of the same connotations in modern society – particularly in the sense of ‘losing face’ – but nobody is likely to fight a duel over it even if some nations rush off to war on the strength of it.
Reading the bleatings of the media, particularly those of the News Limited outlets, about the rather modest proposed Conroy reforms it was impossible not to be reminded of Samuel Johnson’s response to Americans objecting to British taxes.
Johnson said: “How is it that we hear the loudest yelps for liberty among the drivers of Negroes?” Johnson, it should be said, can perhaps be excused some PC deficit given the times and the moral superiority of his position to that, for instance, of Thomas Jefferson. Equally News Limited management are not slave owners, like many of the US Founding Fathers, but their defence of the ‘freedom of the press’ and the historic virtues of press liberty would be more convincing if any of their outlets actually resembled some principled fourth estate voice.