For many of us in Public Relations, the study of journalism, whether professionally, by osmosis in the job, or just by casual observation, is something that most of us will admit to finding of interest and relevance. Therefore when watching the news on TV, or reading newspapers, you cannot help but have a critical and professional eye on what you see.
One topic that I always find relevant is the tension and trends between what we call detached and attached journalism – namely, the cold analysis and reporting of facts and information by a reporter (detached), or a subjective, emotional, or agenda-driven approach to how the news is reported (attached).
In the UK, this debate first came to the fore around the shootings in a town called Dunblane in 1996, when a leading UK news reporter on the BBC called Kate Adie was widely criticised for being too cold and detached from the tragic and terrible news events she was reporting on from location. By the time Princess Diana died in 1997 the pendulum seemed to have completely swung the other way by the tone and way her tragic and premature death was reported.
Are there advantages or disadvantages to both approaches? This really depends on how you see the role of the media and whether what is being reported, and how, meets with your viewpoints or moral judgements. There is no simple answer, but most people will agree that if there is a danger of using news coverage to push public opinion in a certain political or other position by the way it is reported, and this is being done intentionally, it does raise certain issues and principals, especially in open democratic societies. For example, in the old USSR, or other totalitarian regimes, media control and manipulation is expected, but if this is now happening in the West it does raise serious questions about the integrity of the media and what it is reporting and why.
Broadsheet newspapers and tabloids have been infamous for their political affiliations and viewpoints for years. For example, the New York Times or Guardian are renowned for being left of centre. Whereas the Telegraph and others are seen as right of centre. But in the mass media of television, radio and online news agenda driven, attached news coverage seems somehow more sinister and worrying.
In the last few weeks, coverage of the refugee crisis in Europe is an example of attached journalism. There was widespread outrage at the tragic death of a small boy drowning from a boat and this was picked-up by many in the media as an example of a callous and poor approach to management of the crisis by European governments. Yet, it later transpired, that the family of this boy had lived in Turkey for a few years and the attempt to reach Europe had more economic considerations than fleeing persecution. Whether it is right or wrong, this kind of agenda driven news coverage seems to be happening more and more.
As the world becomes more volatile and complex maybe it is time for more people to question what they are seeing, hearing and reading in the media, and also for the media itself to be more critical of the viewpoints and news that it reports?