For those of you who bemoan the slow demise of investigative journalism as we have known it, dry your eyes. Tim Cavanaugh of Reason magazine has seen journalism’s future, and it is public relations. You’ll want to get right to fighting over this, so I’ll cut straight to Cavanaugh’s vision:
Are flacks the future, or even the present, of investigative journalism? This interpretation makes intuitive sense. Important data points by which we continue to live our live—the number of jobs that were created or destroyed by NAFTA, the villainy of the Serbs in the Yugoslav breakup, all sorts of projected benefits or disasters in President Obama’s budget plans—are largely the inventions of P.R. workers.
And though it’s considered wise to believe the contrary, these communications types are not constructing all these news items entirely (or even mostly) by lying. Flackery requires putting together credible narratives from pools of verifiable data. This activity is not categorically different from journalism. Nor is the teaching value that flackery provides entirely different from that of journalism: Most of the content you hear senators and congressmen reading on C-SPAN is stuff flacks provided to staffers.
…the idea of public relations (and its many fancy permutations, from “image management” to “oppo research” to “crisis”) replacing objective journalism becomes less scary when you reflect that … frequently the most valuable information comes out just because somebody wants to make somebody else look bad.