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Media Wars

Interesting read over at Slate on this week’s media wars.

This week two giant companies took extraordinary efforts to gin up more favorable press coverage. GM, the largest automaker, said it would yank its advertising from the Los Angeles Times—the largest paper in the nation’s largest car market—because it was unhappy with the Times’ coverage. And Wal-Mart, which generally treats the press like a dead fish, invited reporters to its Bentonville, Ark., bunker for a media day.Daniel Gross

I’ve been in their shoes before – both with media and analysts. Respect for independent journalism or analysis shouldn’t come with a requirement to support that "reporting" with advertising dollars. I’m surprised more companies don’t exercise their right to not fund views that don’t agree with.

It’s interesting that, even in the Slate story, there is an implication that advertising dollars result in a more compliant media – and that is the intent of these companies. Maybe so. But maybe these companies just don’t want to fund those views they regard to be as unfair or inaccurate. Or, whose bias they accept but don’t agree with and don’t want to fund. The implicit assumption in the media’s argument is that journalists and their editors are fair, professional and without bias. Which as we have seen in the last year couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is also an assumption that companies need newspapers to reach consumers. That they need reporting. Maybe so – but nothing like to the degree they once did. Look at any of the recent readership surveys. And it’s not like companies are short of alternate ways to reach their target audiences these days.

Where the Slate story is right is that if companies engage in these kinds of activity with the belief they can influence the analysis or reporting, they are generally wrong. Especially when it comes to Big Media. All they are likely to do is aggravate the situation.

For embattled executives, it’s easy and convenient to think that the media—not their business model or management—is the problem. Morgan Stanley CEO Philip Purcell, fighting off an attempted coup, told the Financial Times today that the challenges will go away if the media stop quoting the dissidents. – Daniel Gross, Slate

I think the criticism of Wal-Mart – and the packaging of the two stories together – is pretty unfair. Wal-Mart is doing nothing more than engaging with the media in a fair and reasonable way. They are not saying this is the only way to engage with them. They are not saying don’t do your own reporting. And BTW – access in many instances unfortunately does make the journalistic heart grow fonder.

In essence, the moral here for communicators are common ones – pick your battles carefully and get your own house in order before criticizing another. And be clear on what you are trying to achieve – are you trying to punish the media, make a point or simply not fund a point of view? If it’s the last of these, you’d better prepared for a long hard road. If it’s the first two, there are much better ways of achieving your goal.

One Response

  1. By Scott Baradell on April 9th, 2005 at 8:39 am

    The traditional media in general works VERY hard to be unbiased in its news coverage. Ethical issues are extremely important to reporters and editors. Corporations often mistake the media’s focus on independence and ethics with recalcitrance and anti-corporate bias. In general, this has nothing to do with political leanings. Journalists and corporate types approach their lives, including their professional lives, with different motivations and objectives. Most journalists can’t identify or fully understand how someone could even enjoy working for a corporation. This is true whether the journalist is “liberal,” “conservative” or whatever label you want to throw on.

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