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The Media

Paul Graham on PR 383

ralejs writes "Paul Graham takes on PR. From the article:'Why do the media keep running stories saying suits are back? Because PR firms tell them to. One of the most surprising things I discovered during my brief business career was the existence of the PR industry, lurking like a huge, quiet submarine beneath the news. Of the stories you read in traditional media that aren't about politics, crimes, or disasters, more than half probably come from PR firms.' As always, it's an interesting, surprising and slightly provoking read."
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Paul Graham on PR

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  • Maybe because... (Score:2, Insightful)

    by winkydink ( 650484 ) *
    outside of the geek community and high-tech development communities, suits are back?
    • Re:Maybe because... (Score:2, Interesting)

      by drinkypoo ( 153816 )
      Suits are back in the high-tech community. It's just part of the cost of a job. Demand is still far outstripping supply (of jobs) so geeks are willing to pay the higher cost of getting a job in this economy, which includes wearing a suit.

      I am not (I won't even wear a tie on a daily basis - fucking collars for wage slaves) which is probably why I'm [essentially] unemployed.

      • Don't tell my boss that!!

        As I sit here in my heavily faded t-shirt, black jeans and sneakers.. At least I keep my goatee trimmed.

      • Re:Maybe because... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by tdelaney ( 458893 )
        Some of us manage to wear t-shirts (I prefer collared t-shirts) and shorts or jeans, and sandals every day, and earn a lot of money (6 figures base salary). Without contracting - in fact, I wore "better" clothes when contracting - I wore boots.

        Actually, when contracting I was willing to wear shirt and tie. If they asked about it, I told them up-front it would cost and additional $20/hour.
    • Re:Maybe because... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by sTalking_Goat ( 670565 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:43PM (#12306337) Homepage
      The implication being that at some point they left. But outside the "geek community and high-tech development" as you put it, suits have always been their. Lawyers and businessmen and most non-uniformed male professionals have been wearing essentially the same clothes for the last 80 years or so. Pretty much only hats disappeared and maybe suspenders. Male business fashion doesn't change much.
    • Suits are coming back to the geek community. There are programmers where I work wearing suits, and I'm almost a geek. Some people don't wear them, but as people get more and more competitive, they will wear more suits. As more suits are worn, the more they come back.

      I hate my tie.
    • Re:Maybe because... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by IWorkForMorons ( 679120 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:49PM (#12306460) Journal
      I think the geek community is a good indicator of how business *should* allow they're employees to dress, short of the old concert t-shirts and torn jeans. Geeks usually tend to not bother with fashion, opting for comfort instead. But in business, especially the marketing peons and others who think appearance is everything, clothes make the man. A suit just makes you a better person. I think it's BS, but unfortunately people like that run the business world. Funny how they think that clothing, rather then actions, make a person. Hell, mobsters and contract killers always dress pretty nicely in movies, but that doesn't make them good people. They still go around killing people...
      • by danheskett ( 178529 ) <.moc.liamg. .ta. .tteksehnad.> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @04:06PM (#12306717)
        But in business, especially the marketing peons and others who think appearance is everything, clothes make the man.

        No, no, no.

        Funny how they think that clothing, rather then actions, make a person.

        No, no, no.

        Look. Whatever job you do, there are a certain number of people who do the same thing as you, but better. Faster, cheaper, closer to the right place, whatever. There are also a huge number of people who do the job as well, or virtually as well, as you do. Similiar cost, similiar distance, turn around times, etc. It doesn't matter the industry.

        Basically, you are NOT a unique snowflake. You are NOT a beautiful flower. No matter how much you think business will stop if you leave, chances are it won't. It may be difficult for a bit, but things will get better, and smooth out. There are few people who "essential" to any reasonably sized enterprise. Unless you have a "business principle" insurance policy on taken out by your boss, or you are the *owner* or high-boss of an enterprise, you are not probably essential.

        So what makes people pick you, instead of the dozens of almost-you knock-offs, that realistically, can do the same exact quality of job?

        Things are *never* truly equal between candidates for a position, but they are virtually equal. There is almost always more than one candidate who can do the job, at the specified cost, in quality manner. That's just how it is.

        So back on to suits. When I'm hiring a person, I usually have 3-5 people who could all be the hired person. At that point, it is up to me to pick a person. And on the list of things I look for is apperance. Will I feel ashamed to have this person represent my group? Will I feel akward having this person give a public speech? Will I feel weird standing next to this person at a trade conference? What about the other employees? Are they going to hostile to this person? What about me? Does this person jibe well with me? Or the person rebellious for the fun of it - argumentative for no reason?

        The way the person looks is a factor. There are dozens of people like you. You are interchangeable. You probably aren't especially well qualified for the job over anyone else.

        ALl bets are off if you are truly exceptionally qualified, but that is rare.

        You laugh at marketing, but what you forget is that there millions of people who can do their job. And they know it. And that means they all want to look clean, presentable, and professional.

        Suits come back when jobs are harder to find. It's an advantage.
        • by UserGoogol ( 623581 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @04:29PM (#12307055)
          Right. You're just a cog in a machine. And do factory owners cover their cogs with glitter? No, because that would be stupid. Likewise, forcing your employees to wear suits is stupid.

          Yes, it makes sense for workers to wear suits when bosses like them, but it doesn't make sense for bosses to like them.
        • by nightsweat ( 604367 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @04:54PM (#12307383)
          Actually, I AM a unique snowflake. I AM a beautiful flower. I'm sorry you aren't.

          If you don't have this attitude (along with some team-oriented ones) I don't want to work with you. If you don't respect yourself and the work product of your staff over the superficials, why should I?

          Who am I? I'm the guy who runs a 14 nation, 24 office IT department making a salary in a publicly held corporation in the top 10% of the U.S. I've been doing it for 7 years and each person who works for me works hard and contributes a UNIQUE part of the puzzle. I retain staff longer and have fewer people doing more work because I select people who fit into the puzzle when someone leaves. Despite higher salaries, my total salary expenditures are lower than comparable departments because my people are happy and doing interesting work so they produce more per person.

          Maybe my whole department will be outsourced to India someday but it hasn't happened yet and I doubt it will anytime soon.

          Frankly, if I wanted a cog, I'd go to an auto parts store.
          • by An Onerous Coward ( 222037 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @05:27PM (#12307813) Homepage
            Thank you.

            The grandparent seems to be confusing "unique" and "inexpendable". A person's qualifications, talents, and skillset may not be unique, but the person sure as hell is. I've worked at places where I was expected to disappear into my function, and it was unpleasant. Had I been treated that way in an environment where the job itself required creativity and problem-solving, it would have been intolerable.

            It's attitudes like the GP's that spawn sarcastic thoughts like "You're not being paid to believe in the power of your dreams" and "There is no 'my kid has cancer' in TEAM".
          • Because he pretty much said three times, "given the same qualifications".

            In that case, and given a choice, I'd also consider how they'd fit into a team, their apparent people skills, how they present themselves, communication skills, and so on.

            For one thing, and again, given the same qualifications, I refuse to hire someone who even can't write a coherent paragraph.

          • Do you have any openings now?
          • Re:Maybe because... (Score:3, Interesting)

            by danheskett ( 178529 )
            If you don't have this attitude (along with some team-oriented ones) I don't want to work with you. If you don't respect yourself and the work product of your staff over the superficials, why should I?
            Uhh, actually, I value performance and quality, cohesion and teamwork. We had 300 qualified applicants for our last opening, and this isn't in a huge area. There were at least 25 people who were qualified, capable, fit in well with the team, and who would have done a great job. So fine. I am saying, as
      • Re:Maybe because... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by johnmearns ( 561064 )
        Maybe its just me, but I actually feel like I'm more productive if I dress up for work. I wind up getting more into getting stuff done than usual. I think I heard it put once something like the lines of dress for football and a game will break out...except far more eloquently. Its a sports analogy so I didn't pay as close attention as I should have. Anyway I've always thought it was kind of shame how casual everything is, dress wear can make people look really good. If it fits and its made of the right
      • MY dress level is commensurate with my salary. When I worked for a company, the trainer there said "if you are looking to advance in the company, you should dress as a person who is in a position two levels above yours" (a couple of companies have told me this). My response: "I make 30k/year, the person two positions above me makes 150k+ a year...how am i supposed to buy clothing to match his clothing? How about I let my work quality speak for the level I should be at, and then when I get the position/sa
      • by Nexx ( 75873 )
        Has it ever occurred to you that some of us are more comfortable separating our work clothes and our casual clothes, and therefore, are more comfortable working in a suit?

        Besides, golf shirt and khakis are *so* 90's.

        • by Anonymous Coward
          Has it ever occurred to you that some of us are more comfortable separating our work clothes and our casual clothes, and therefore, are more comfortable working in a suit?

          Sometimes it amazes me what kind of bullshit even people with a scientific background fall for. It's cloth, a fucking cloth bag thrown over a primate. There's no magic hoodoo work/casual magic in any of it. It's your own lack of self awareness that's allowing little tricks of texture or colour influence your mood or behavior.
          • Sometimes it amazes me what kind of bullshit even people with a scientific background fall for. It's cloth, a fucking cloth bag thrown over a primate. There's no magic hoodoo work/casual magic in any of it. It's your own lack of self awareness that's allowing little tricks of texture or colour influence your mood or behavior.

            The fact is, your clothes do have a profound effect on your attitude, and the people who see you. It's why judges have robes, soldiers have uniforms, and hot babes have little black

      • There used to be a dress policy on most nightclubs in the UK. Ben Elton (UK comedian) once did a skit on this along the lines that Hitler would get in and Jesus would not.

        Only quoting, so please don't consider it as Godwin material.

    • And engineers? (Score:4, Interesting)

      by PaulBu ( 473180 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @04:09PM (#12306767) Homepage
      ... At least at the place I work at (large aerospace/defence company in So. Cal.) if someone in a suit is noticed around it is a definite hint that an important customer is coming. Other than that, everyone wears slacks and (polo) shirts, or even more casual. At some point the sector president sent out an e-mail reminding that surfers' outfits (swimming shorts and faded t-shirts) are a bit beyond the line of acceptable business attire. ;-)

      But then, again, it is a bit too warm here to wear a suit and tie...

      Paul B.
  • by bhsx ( 458600 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:36PM (#12306217)
    Lawsuits!
  • by youknowmewell ( 754551 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:37PM (#12306220)
    When did suits leave? Why'd they leave? And what kind of suits are we speaking of (business, swimming, wet)? Because if swim suits left, I wish someone would have told me.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      I prefer hearts myself, although I could maybe admit to a slight fondness for clubs.
    • Re:I'm confused (Score:5, Informative)

      by Tackhead ( 54550 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:53PM (#12306534)
      > When did suits leave? Why'd they leave? And what kind of suits are we speaking of (business, swimming, wet)? Because if swim suits left, I wish someone would have told me.

      Business suits. As in, "the wearing of".

      For those of you asking - that's precisely the sort of thing these PR firms do. Issue a few press releases saying "In hard economic times, more formal dress is returning to the workplace as a means of repudiating the excesses that led to the dot-com crash", and bolster it with a parallel "Metrosexuality is cool" spin, and all of a sudden, people are convinced that buying a suit and ceasing to observe casual Fridays in anything less than a sport coat, will get them promoted, laid, or both.

      From the article:

      Of the stories you read in traditional media that aren't about politics, crimes, or disasters, more than half probably come from PR firms.'

      This thinly-disguised Slashvertisement has been brought to you by Public Relations 'R' Us, leaders in astroturfing since 2005! :)

      Remember. The objective of the 6 o'clock "news" is to fill the time between advertisements.

      You lead with violence. You promise "weather after the break". You run the ads. You run a celebrity sex story. You promise "weather after the break and SOMETHING THAT CAN KILL YOUR CHILDREN. You run the ads. You show the weather. More ads. You've got nothing else to run, so you finally put in some fluff, tell the parents that unless their kids wear a suit, and get a job at a PR firm, they'll STARVE TO DEATH. Then you run yet more ads, and then you fill up the rest of the time slot with whatever else the PR firms have given you.

      You can actually "watch" the 6 o'clock news (that is, the actual content, and only the fluffy PR-generated "human interest stories" you're interested in) in less than 30 seconds by glancing at the headlines from any major news network, and combining them with a scan through Fark, Slashdot, and a political blog that caters to your own prejudices.

  • Submarine? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:38PM (#12306244)
    ...the existence of the PR industry, lurking like a huge, quiet submarine beneath the news.

    This is good analogy, as I suspect that most PR reps (both male and female) are quite adept at looking after the parts of clients that are long, hard and full of seamen.
  • Finally (Score:5, Funny)

    by JPelorat ( 5320 ) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:39PM (#12306251)
    A topic that the Slashdot editors are intimately familar with!
  • by Neil Blender ( 555885 ) <neilblender@gmail.com> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:40PM (#12306271)
    My favorite quote from our ex PR firm: "That is what they said, now I am going to tell you what they meant."

    This was in response to a focus group clearly stating they did not like something and the PR people were trying to spin it to positive. I never listened to them again.
    • My favorite quote from our ex PR firm: "That is what they said, now I am going to tell you what they meant." This was in response to a focus group clearly stating they did not like something and the PR people were trying to spin it to positive. I never listened to them again.

      You had the 1-way mirror the wrong way round. The shiny side was meant to be facing outwards so that your market saw themselves looking good instead of the machinations of your company, while you got a good look at *them*.

      What yo
  • by John Seminal ( 698722 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:41PM (#12306288) Journal
    Good PR firms use the same strategy: they give reporters stories that are true, but whose truth favors their clients.

    This seems like a contridiction. PR people don't lie, they tell selective truths.

    It is like the late night commercials for diet products. "WE GAURENTEE YOU'LL LOSE 20 POUNDS IN 2 WEEKS idividual results will vary"

    Why don't we call PR firms what they really are? They are designed to confuse people. Even when they are giving you the truth, they are not giving you the whole truth. Imagine if our court system was run that way. "Mr. Simposn was seen in that neighborhood wearing a brown blazer that brought out his eyes and smile that all people love. yada...yada...yada... and Mr. Simpson wishes to express deep condolences to the Brown family."

    It is the same problem I have with FOX news, they spin the news so much, editorialize the news, and people use that information when voting. Even the "left" they bring on FOX news are really more moderate conservative arguing with right wing conservatives. What do you get? People think that anything more left than "moderate conservative" if extreme left wing. So the moderate liberal is now an extreme left winger. By changing names and labels, they have changed politics. Will we every get good old democrats, in the tradition of LBJ and JFK, the ones who believe in the great society? Or will we keep getting Clintons who are more republican than democrat.

  • by G4from128k ( 686170 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:41PM (#12306298)
    The more powerful the role of PR in the media and the mind of decision makers, the weaker the role of reason when it comes to technology selection. If one company can spend millions on FUD and get that FUD published or cited by seemingly reputable journalists, then less well capitalized technologies such as OSS are at a disadvantage.
  • Sounds like the oldest trick in the marketing book.
  • So this is why Slashdot posted this one: http://politics.slashdot.org/article.pl?sid=05/04/ 21/162247&tid=109&tid=219 [slashdot.org]

    News for Nerds. Stuff that matters? Come on...
  • So? (Score:3, Interesting)

    by wheelbarrow ( 811145 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:43PM (#12306341)
    Is there anything wrong with PR people doing PR? Is anyone out there suggesting that some benevolent authority should intervene and saves us from PR?
    • Re:So? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by aiabx ( 36440 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:51PM (#12306499)
      No. They are suggesting you keep your eyes open, and when you read in your favourite magazine that "suits are back", think about who is telling you that, and what they have to gain from it. With increased awareness comes increased immunity.
      -aiabx
  • I mean really, whose left on American Idol should be something you read in TVGuide, not CNN.
  • by myheroBobHope ( 842869 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:44PM (#12306370) Homepage Journal
    In a article about how PR firms write stories to get attention for their clients, there is a link to the PR firm the guy worked with and a statement that they are the best... hmmm... Maybe we should learn a lesson from the article?
  • I like suits. (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jellomizer ( 103300 ) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:45PM (#12306377)
    Not to say that everyday I wear them. I usually dress simular to what my customers are dressed as so I am not considred sales guy. But I do look forward to the days when I work with my more formal customers where I need to put on the Suit. I dont know it feels like I am one of those big shot buisness men walking the streets around the capital when I am waring a suit. On days when I don't wear a suit walking around the capital. I just feel like ordanary joe.
    • Re:I like suits. (Score:3, Interesting)

      by samael ( 12612 )
      The people inside those suits _are_ ordinary Joes. You are an ordinary Joe. _Everyone_ is an ordinary Joe. They wear suits so that _they_ can feel like big shots too.

      Steve Jobs is a big shot. He doesn't wear a suit.
      Larry Ellison is a big shot. He does wear a suit.

      The suit doesn't make them a big shot. Being _them_ does.
  • The news media is lazy, and if you give them a story they'll run it. Thus is one has the money to produce a story and distribute it to reporters, you can shape public perception. I'm shocked that money buys influence.

  • A suggestion (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Night Goat ( 18437 )
    If Slashdot's going to post every single article that Paul Graham writes, regardless of its nerd quotient, could we at least have Paul as a topic or author? So we can filter it out like I used to do with that other marginal fellow Jon Katz? Please?! At least shove his long-winded drivel off the front page. Save that real estate for Star Wars and dudes that shoe-horned Linux into weird shit.
    • Actually, unless I've gone blind, you can't filter out by topic anymore. Just by the much larger "Sections".

      I know you used to be able to, I filtered out Anime once (and seemingly I STILL filter out anime, as I never see the stories but I occasionaly see the icon at the top).
  • by Anonymous Coward
    During my MBA Program, our marketing instructor told us that having newspaper stories written about her company was a part of their marketing strategy.

    It doesn't seem like a big deal on the surface, but once you start to critically read various articles (and not just limited to business in general), as Paul suggests, you see a lot of it.

    mcho
    http://www.messagingreminder.com/ [messagingreminder.com]
  • I blame Ida Tarbell and A History of the Standard Oil Company, damned muckrakers and all their muckraking.
  • by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:47PM (#12306421)
    One company I was at, they had a guy whose job was just to write newspaper style articles about the company and submit them to various local and national papers. Even if they weren't very interesting stories(some were just reworded press releases), there are always newspapers that have a few colum-inches to fill.

    It's cheaper than buying an ad and often more effective.
  • I was in a mens store just recently and the sales guy told me so. If anyone should know he should so it must be true.

  • We are cattle. (Score:5, Informative)

    by NoseBag ( 243097 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:48PM (#12306424)
    This stuff should not be a surprise.

    PR firms and advertisers and sales folks have spent billions over the last half-century (?) or so rigorously testing and figuring precisely how to influence the average - and even non-average - schmo. Its a science and they are 21st century, computer-enhanced masters at it, and the media are their lapdogs. And I'm not talking "america" or "surburbia". I'm talking world wide. Note - I'm not trolling - I actually admire their single-mindedness and stunning success at it. I just hate being on the receiving end of it.

    Today, if you don't want to be influenced, then you'll have to cut off all your sensory input.
    • Today, if you don't want to be influenced, then you'll have to cut off all your sensory input.

      Or just read slashdot all day.

    • Re:We are cattle. (Score:4, Insightful)

      by jmc ( 4639 ) * on Thursday April 21, 2005 @04:22PM (#12306938)
      I actually admire their single-mindedness and stunning success at it.

      Me too. I highly recommend Gibsom's "Pattern Recognition" for a a good nerds-eye view of the advertising industry. Ever since reading that book, whenever I see an attractive woman in a bar, I stop and wonder who they're working for. Is Absolute paying her to order an Absolute and tonic, and tell everyone how much she loves it?

      Kinda a surreal world we're in anymore. Gibson's book captured that surreality perfectly.
    • Re:We are cattle. (Score:3, Insightful)

      by jgardn ( 539054 )
      I'd like to clarify this. Consider the problem that a big company like Amazon has. They have thousands of products. One day they will probably have millions. The problem they face is showing you the product you wanted to buy when you came to the site.

      Now, I have no problem with honest PR. If a product or service or company really is good, then by all means, promote that to the ends of the earth using whatever legal methods you can think of. This is like taking all the computational and intellectual resourc
  • by stlhawkeye ( 868951 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:50PM (#12306472) Homepage Journal
    News stories are often nothing but political opinions or advertisements disguised as press releases. When a local business is having a major event to honor some anniversary, they contact newspapers and local TV stations and request that it be covered. The news programs don't seek out these photo ops, the businesses solicit the TV stations in exchange for continuing their advertising on those stations. What you see on TV is carefully hand-picked to ensure that you see exactly what they want you to see. Although Fox takes a lot of heat for its meticulously packaged news and slanted editorials, they're at least pretty blatant and obvious about it. People watch CNN or ABC and genuinely believe that they're getting unbiased, objective news. People who watch Fox know, in their hearts, that it's a conservative news station and that's exactly why they flock to it. Easier to be steadfast in your beliefs when they're not being seriously challenged.

    The other kind of news is the political op-ed that's dressed up like a news story but it's not really a story. These, at least, provide some value to the voter concerned about understanding who he is voting for, but very little value. Countless news "stories" are just recitations of a public figure's opinion. This sounds like it should be valuable to it, but it's a carefully crafted, generally ambiguous and misleading statement, intended to befuddle and confuse the casual reader into agreeing.

    For example, say I dislike the new pope. I go find a reporter and say, "I'm concerned and dismayed that the College of Cardinals believe that a former Hitler Youth is the best choice to guide the Catholic church through its unsure future."

    This isn't a news story, it's not even an event, it's just one guy saying what he thinks. Now, this has value to intelligent people because we can research the statement and determine that the author is a manipulative jerk and not vote for him. But most of the population fails to do this. I suppose there's something to be said for not depriving the rest of us of information to compensate for the ignorance of the masses.

    I don't really have a point to all this either. Oh! I know. By not having a point and just complaining I'm disguising directionless ranting as an intelligent Slashdot post. Ok, just as a Slashdot post. And by doing so, I'm demonstrating by example the very phenomenon that I distrust. Man, I'm brilliant!

  • by learn fast ( 824724 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:51PM (#12306485)
    Wired might spontaneously run a story on tagging, but if Business Week is writing about it, the story must have been fed to them by a PR firm. Since PR firms cost $10-20,000 a month, only fairly rich companies can afford them. And sure enough, a few days later I read that del.icio.us had just gotten money from VCs.

    No, that's not true in the slightest. Any size firm or charity can do PR. Wikipedia is in BusinessWeek every now and then, and they're not paying any PR firms anything. They just know how to write up a press release and use a fax machine.

    What's particularly insidious is government PR and video news releases. Wikipedia can't replicate that.
    • What's particularly insidious is government PR and video news releases.

      Why are these automatically worse than, say, corporate PR? Does it really undermine democracy if the Department of Agriculture [usda.gov] is putting out mp3s that explain the state of sugar industry?As long as they clearly state where the information is coming from, what's the problem?

      Why should explaining government positions be left to those who oppose it?

  • A great article (Score:3, Insightful)

    by MilenCent ( 219397 ) * <<moc.liamg> <ta> <hwnhoj>> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:52PM (#12306509) Homepage
    I don't see what these people who are complaining this story has nothing to do with technology are complaining about, this is perfectly relevant in my opinion.

    Ultimately, the article's point is that PR people aren't necessarily bad, but that lazy reporters who don't do work beyond what the PR people give them are. Lending weight to this is how the "liberal" mainstream media has refused to report on the Bush administration concerning little beyond what are in the press releases the White House gives them. So there is a problem with the media, but it isn't liberalism: it's laziness.
  • by GillBates0 ( 664202 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:53PM (#12306522) Homepage Journal
    It was in one of the segments with Samantha Bee search the Daily Show's website [comedycentral.com] for "Samantha Bee reveals why a fake "Town Hall" is better for our democracy" for the clip) interviewing the PR representative (forget the name) responsible for making the "truth" more palatable to the general public during the current administration's town hall meetings.

    It was quite astounding how the guy managed to spin things around to make them sound easier to digest (justifying became "Educating and Explaining", relaxing pollution laws became the "Clear Skies" etc (reworded from memory)). It is reasonably justifiable to see companies doing this...but it is disconcerting to see governments do it (not just the US govt...I'm sure others do it too).

    • It was quite astounding how the guy managed to spin things around to make them sound easier to digest (justifying became "Educating and Explaining", relaxing pollution laws became the "Clear Skies" etc (reworded from memory)).

      Patriot Act. Nuff said.
    • I appreciate your point, but it's impossible for the government to give the truth "without spin". First, because the opposition - who ever they are - will be attempting to spin things their way and the government - who ever they are - will need to compensate.

      Second, "spin" is a nebulous concept in any case - what's the difference between "spin" and "diplomacy", for example? What one man calls "spinning the truth" another man will call "a clear and simple explanation".

      The only reason is to use your critica
  • by The Slashdolt ( 518657 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:55PM (#12306557) Homepage
    What if slashdot is just a PR firm for Linux? Think about it......

  • A better name (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Raindance ( 680694 ) * <johnsonmx@[ ]il.com ['gma' in gap]> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:57PM (#12306584) Homepage Journal
    Paul Graham's right-on about this phenomenon of PR firms feeding stories to various press outlets. But...

    Frankly, we're going to have to come up with a good name for this phenomenon (I could go into all the reasons why putting a name to something is a Good Thing, but life is short and I'll take it as a given).

    "The Submarine" doesn't cut it.

    Thoughts?
    • Propaganda is the manipulation or fabrication of information for the sake of influencing public opinion, which is exactly what these PR companies do.

      There is no discernible difference between propaganda and PR drivel. They both spin the facts to put a positive shine on their team and a great stinking stain on the opposition. See political ads. See those adds from Exxon on how they are helping to preserve the environment for tigers.

      Buson-Marsteller [bm.com], the worlds largest PR firm, has in the past contracte
  • Interesting Take (Score:4, Informative)

    by Deinhard ( 644412 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:59PM (#12306608)
    As someone who actually has a degree in Public Relations (actually, Mass Communications with an emphasis in PR), I'd say Graham is fairy on target.

    I find it very telling that one of the classes I had as an undergrad (actually in the psychology department) was Persuasion or, as the instructor said, "How to get people to do things that they don't want to do."

    What I don't like about the article, however, is that it infers that Marketing and Public Relations are actually the same. They are definitely not. Marketing is really a two-way sales method (consider it a closed feedback loop) while Public Relations (excepting the occasional survey) is typically one-way. This, however, doesn't mean that PR is inherently insidious.

    What gives PR a really bad name is when its techniques are used as propaganda, with prepared stories being shown as news pieces. When that happens then you can't be sure what really is true.
    • by khallow ( 566160 )
      What gives PR a really bad name is when its techniques are used as propaganda, with prepared stories being shown as news pieces. When that happens then you can't be sure what really is true.

      I'm sorry but PR is propaganda. Propaganda [dict.org] is "information that is spread for the purpose of promoting some cause".

  • by dillon_rinker ( 17944 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @03:59PM (#12306619) Homepage
    Because there's always at least one new mode of thought to add to my arsenal. Here, it's "...ask not just whether the author is telling the truth, but why he's writing about this subject at all."
  • The student [cmdrtaco.net] has learned from his master. Stories like this [slashdot.org] , this [slashdot.org] , this [slashdot.org], and this [slashdot.org] make more sense now.

  • by Gyorg_Lavode ( 520114 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @04:12PM (#12306794)
    I had started to notice this but did't understand it. I knew a lot of online news sites put 'payed stories' in with their real stories as a way of generating revenue. So as I read online articles I started to see articles stating some big change that I sure hadn't seen. And a single company providing the solution along w/ some expert opinion.

    The more I saw the stories the more I subconciously could start picking them out, much like my spam filter. But the more I saw them where I expected them, the more I saw them everywhere. And I didn't expect to see them everywhere. Now I know why I'm seeing these stories turn up where they do.

    Hopefully it becomes common for people to see these stories where they appear. Hell, maybe someone will write a firefox extention that will filter out such stories, or mark suspected advertisement stories. Though advertisers would be again forced to be up-front about their products until the next subversive advertising.

  • I mean really, do you think that President Bush has a plan to 'reform' or 'save' Social Security? Of course, not. He has a plan to create millions of elderly poor. But you would never know it from the newspapers because they just print whatever comes off the wire. He gets away with it because the center-right wing of the Republican party, also known as the Democrats, have no plan at all so they can't even issue a press release. The only time there is ever 'balance' in media is when there are two equally w
  • PR people fear bloggers for the same reason readers like them. And that means there may be a struggle ahead. As this new kind of writing draws readers away from traditional media, we should be prepared for whatever PR mutates into to compensate. When I think how hard PR firms work to score press hits in the traditional media, I can't imagine they'll work any less hard to feed stories to bloggers, if they can figure out how.

    Judging by all the front-page attention google's got on slashdot lately, I'd say th

  • What's worse? (Score:2, Insightful)

    by twifosp ( 532320 )
    I think we have to ask ourselves a simple question:

    What's worse, the fact that PR companies exist? Or that people are so uninformed, they fall for them?

    I think the fact that PR works speaks VOLUMES about why it exists in the first place. People would rather believe in a slightly less real reality that they prefer, than believe in the one they don't. That, and the fact that most people are too lazy and uninformed to do any double checking about spin.

    Not that anyone needs any proof or reminder about

  • Of course there's manipulation going on all the time. For example, here in New York the subways suddenly started having all kinds of structural problems, delays, fires in electrical conduits, etc. The service has gone down dramatically. Then lo and behold the MTA announces that either the state OK's another rate hike in two years or they simply won't be able to maintain the integrity of the system. And now people are nodding their heads, gee they must be right. Hmm, methinks I smell a rat.

    And yes, com
  • ...leisure suits!

    (Apologies to Mr. Laffer.)
  • by br00tus ( 528477 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @04:27PM (#12307005)
    I investigate where news stories come from and who is used as a source, and I'd say the same thing. A good web site that helps track this down is the wiki Sourcewatch [sourcewatch.org].

    Anyhow, it is a kind of tautological system, wealthy people fund politicians, PR firms, lobbyists, think tanks and whatnot. They also own most of the major media, and even PBS is starting to look like it has commercials between shows.

    The majority shareholders of finance companies pay some think tanks to make the case for eliminating bankruptcy protections (unless you're wealthy) or to privatize social security. Then they pay lobbyists, and finance campaigns of candidates they support, the politicians start talking about this. Their employees - editorialists for the newspapers, magazine and TV networks they hand out the party line like the commissars of the USSR used to.

    Perhaps a better example for us was the supposed shortage of high-tech labor in the late 1990s. Only one senator voted not to lift the number of H1-Bs coming into the country. I believe the "shortage" was manufactured, but now that there is a glut of foreign IT workers in the country where is the movement to correct it? There isn't much of one - the big money likes a labor glut, and as far as IT workers, there's a variety of tools to wield against them doing anything about it - all that money, various laws to prevent worker organizing, IT workers who think they're brilliant and everyone else is beneath them and only losers worry about things like this.

    The scariest thing for me is when I sit at a table and hear someone repeat word-for-word - word-for-word (!) something said on TV to get them to think a certain way. I have been in focus groups and know that they are just saying those exact phrases to make people think a certain way. This entire propaganda system doesn't disturb me as much as when I hear the people around me repeating the propaganda message, word-for-word like it was said on TV, back to me. It's like their brain hasn't done any processing except acceptance of the message that came from the TV, via the PR firm, via the focus group, via the company, via the wealthy majority shareholders of that company. That is what I find scarier than the whole propaganda system.

  • by spun ( 1352 ) <[moc.oohay] [ta] [yranoituloverevol]> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @04:29PM (#12307046) Journal
    Okay, it's about marketing, not PR, but it fits:

    "By the way if anyone here is in advertising or marketing... kill yourself. No, no, no it's just a little thought. I'm just trying to plant seeds. Maybe one day, they'll take root - I don't know. You try, you do what you can. Kill yourself. Seriously though, if you are, do. Aaah, no really, there's no rationalisation for what you do and you are Satan's little helpers, Okay - kill yourself - seriously. You are the ruiner of all things good, seriously. No this is not a joke, you're going, "there's going to be a joke coming," there's no fucking joke coming. You are Satan's spawn filling the world with bile and garbage. You are fucked and you are fucking us. Kill yourself. It's the only way to save your fucking soul, kill yourself. Planting seeds. I know all the marketing people are going, "he's doing a joke... there's no joke here whatsoever. Suck a tail-pipe, fucking hang yourself, borrow a gun from a Yank friend - I don't care how you do it. Rid the world of your evil fucking machinations. I know what all the marketing people are thinking right now too, "Oh, you know what Bill's doing, he's going for that anti-marketing dollar. That's a good market, he's very smart." Oh man, I am not doing that. You fucking evil scumbags! "Ooh, you know what Bill's doing now, he's going for the righteous indignation dollar. That's a big dollar. A lot of people are feeling that indignation. We've done research - huge market. He's doing a good thing." Godammit, I'm not doing that, you scum-bags!


    Quit putting a godamm dollar sign on every fucking thing on this planet!

    "Ooh, the anger dollar. Huge. Huge in times of recession. Giant market, Bill's very bright to do that." God, I'm just caught in a fucking web! "Ooh the trapped dollar, big dollar, huge dollar. Good market - look at our research. We see that many people feel trapped. If we play to that and then separate them into the trapped dollar..." How do you live like that? And I bet you sleep like fucking babies at night, don't you?"

  • by Dotnaught ( 223657 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @05:40PM (#12307944) Homepage
    As a reporter for a technology publication [informationweek.com], I find Graham's points to be rather overwrought. He makes it sounds as if every story in the mainstream press was ghostwritten by a PR agency.

    No doubt the PR agencies have a hand in launching many stories, but far more of their pitches fail than get picked up. I get anywhere from 50 to 100 pitches a day via E-mail (not to mention phone calls). I write maybe one or two stories a day. Sometimes the story begins with a pitch, sometimes not.

    And when a story does arise from a PR pitch, there's no guarantee the agency will be pleased with the results. Reporters generally do talk to a range of sources and not all say things PR reps like.

    No doubt there are a lot of rewritten press releases that get published as news. That's true of mainstream press sites and of blogs. Sometimes the press release says it all. And sometimes time or resource or editorial ambition constraints prevent a more substantive analysis.

    Graham cites fashion stories as an example of the mainstream press's lack of initiative. Please. Is he expecting a Pulitzer from the fashion and lifestyle pages? Is that much worse than the gear-porn stories so common in the tech industry? (He should have condemned those who covered Enron...that's a case where the spin really did some damage.)

    Sure, there's lots of feel-good or sensationalist fluff out there. But that's what people prefer to read. How else to explain the popularity of titles like People?

    Every journalist dreams of getting a hold of a great story, but they're rare. Not everyone is approached by an inside source with nation-shaking revelations. And it's hard to find such people by cold-calling. Nor do most publications have the reources to fund a thorough investigation of a particular practice or industry. Be grateful we still see some from time to time.

    Graham writes, "Whatever its flaws, the writing you find online is authentic. It's not mystery meat cooked up out of scraps of pitch letters and press releases, and pressed into molds of zippy journalese. It's people writing what they think."

    Well, I think it's a stretch to condemn the entire mainstream press as inauthentic based on a few stories born of PR. I'd also venture to say that much of the writing I find online is suspect. Is someone's review of some book or CD on Amazon somehow more worthy of trust than one penned by a reviewer for the NY Times (who got the book for free from a PR agency)?

    Graham talks about people writing what they think. Usually, their thoughts begin with a link to a story in the mainstream press.

    The best bloggers are good reporters. If reporters happen to use facts that originated with a PR agency, that shouldn't be a problem as long as efforts are made to consider the reliability of the data.
  • by Cryofan ( 194126 ) <.moc.oohay. .ta. .nafoyrc.> on Thursday April 21, 2005 @05:52PM (#12308068) Homepage Journal
    I agree with the basic premise here, but the media and entertainment industry has trained the sheeple to shout "Conspiracy Theory" whenever someone states the obvious about the media--that it is mostly PR.

    Actually, American culture itself is a product of PR, evolved over generations through the continual application of PR/Propaganda by the corporations and the Rich. American culture is like some sort of domesticated animal, so far evolved by external propaganda/PR forces that it little resembles a genuine culture, i.e., compare a poodle to wolf.

  • A Hack Writes In (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Sam Williams ( 94245 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @05:59PM (#12308151) Homepage
    This article irked me heavily, but that's probably a good sign that Mr. Graham gives away many of the trade secrets we journalists rely upon in putting together articles.

    Back in the days when I was filing 2-3 stories a week on open source software, I made a pretty quick realization that there were only so many stories you could write about people writing and rewriting each others' software. Once that realization set it, I was on the slippery slope to PR addiction as I struggled to a) fill the news hole while b) covering stories with any type of efficiency.

    I can't think of too many examples where a PR pitch shaped my story, but Graham's comments about "mystery meat" covered in a coating of "journalese" sent a shiver down my back. Good PR people influence reporting by packaging ideas in the same glib, half-chewed fashion a reporter uses to package it for an editor. It's sort of like a virus slipping its DNA into the host cell's DNA. Since the number of clever ideas a reporter can process in a given week is finite, if you can slip one clever idea into his thoughtstream, it becomes a sit back and wait for the payoff process.

    What Graham neglects to mention, however, is access. What makes PR so addicting to the reporter isn't the minimization of workload: It's the guarantee of face-to-face access when you need an interesting person or group to drive your story. Aside from seeking out buzz-quotes, another way to test for existence of a PR company is to look for all the subtle cues of an arranged meeting -- Hollywood journalism clues such as the way the interviewee attacked a salad during a 15 minute lunch or they way their eyes crinkled briefly in a 20 minute walk-and-talk. Good PR people know that every reporter is trying to make a mink coat out of a single pelt, so they make sure to keep the pelts on limited supply.



    Anyway, I can say all this because, thanks to the economy, my career has veered away from relying heavily on PR folks. I now can afford to pitch only the story ideas I know are unique and that precludes talking to too many intermediaries. When I do convince PR people to have their clients talk to me, I wind up feeling guilty when the pitches bomb.

    As for the future of the PR/news writer relationship, I've said it before and I'll say it again: A person should read the news the same way they buy fruit at the market. Sniff it, inspect it, clean it, and then eat it knowing that you still need a few more courses if you want a balanced meal. Blogs may expand the buffet table, but I find the fare the journalistic equivalent of an all candy diet. Something tells me the PR folks have already figured out how to package that candy.

  • by Jafafa Hots ( 580169 ) on Thursday April 21, 2005 @06:19PM (#12308384) Homepage Journal
    Reading the comments here is very illustrative. It shows how insidious this crap is...

    The article explains how the "suits are back in" is a fake story designed to cause buzz and a possibly false impression, in order to generate more sales for the client.

    So what do the /. sheep start baaaaaing about? "Suits are back in?" "Yeah, they never left!" "Hey, whattaya know, suits are back in!" "Yep, suits get you hired!"

    Pathetic.

    For the record, I too have had some background with advertising and PR and its disgusting.

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