#GE2015. Britain’s ‘Social Media Election’

Sixty years since the 1955 ‘Television election’, 2015 is looking to be the year in which social media platforms will play a decisive role in reaching Britain’s electorate.

Although Marketing Magazine reports that the Conservatives are expected to “outspend Labour 3:1, opting for traditional media”, Labour is putting more emphasis on door-to-door canvassing due to Miliband’s desire to have “4 million face-to-face conversations”. This means that despite less financial spend, Labour is equally more likely to be harnessing the influence and engagement potential of digital and social platforms.

This I think has been perfectly demonstrated during tonight’s Sky/Channel 4 Leader debate between PM David Cameron and Labour leader, Ed Miliband, which generated a considerable amount of simultaneous discussion across Twitter via the amazing – if a tad long – hashtag #Battlefornumber10.

Tweets ranged from the tongue-in-cheek:

To the thoughtfully considered:

To the frustrated outrage in response to the behaviour of Kay Burnley and Jeremy Paxman:

The vital role of social media within politics is becoming ever more widely accepted, and now it is becoming increasingly obvious that whichever party is first to develop and implement a convincing social media strategy will have a distinct advantage this upcoming May. Sites such as Facebook have already been used successfully in the US as a way to engage with – and gather information from – potential voters, and in the UK, 24million people have signed up to the service. This of course gives political parties a pool of voters from which to fish (or more accurately target and engage) on a more personal and responsive level than anything offered via traditional forms.

According to some however, social media is “massively overrated”. Richard Huntington, group chief strategy officer at Saatchi & Saatchi, argues that “It’s great at preaching to the converted and distributing leaders’ speeches or policy points, but political messaging rarely escapes its bubble, unless it’s very amusing.” Personally I think I’d disagree with this.

Although ‘amusing’ posts and tweets (particularly tongue-in-cheek satire) create increased ‘talkability’ online (thus enhancing a post (and brand’s) potential reach), I think this view doesn’t take into consideration the age old adage that ‘necessity is the mother of invention’.

I mean, it’s no real coincidence that only 55% of MPs in the safest seats use Twitter compared to nearly 90% of MPs in the most marginal seats. Being in a ‘safe’ seat erases the need for an MP to engage in a two-way conversation with their electorate – which I honestly think is to the detriment of the political sphere as I’m wholeheartedly a supporter of the ways that engagement and communication builds trust and brand loyalty.

Personally, I think a multi-pronged/integrated campaign approach will work best. Combine the power of Ad agencies which deliver strong, strategic messages, with the considerable influence and attention generated by public relations, as well as the personalisation and responsiveness allowed by digital and social platforms, and I think you’re/your brand is in with a winning recipe for increased engagement, trust and loyalty from your audiences.

Overall I think tonight has given me a lot to think about…

I was planning on dedicating a considerable part of my dissertation this year to analysing @Nick_Clegg’s Twitter use in the month prior to the election using a range of frameworks, but I have to say that tonight’s debate raises a new potential focus…

Do I continue looking at the influence of (and need for) trust within political (ie. the Liberal Democrats) brands, or….

do I look at the role of and way that social media is being used in the run up to the election….

Marketing ‘vermin’: Strategies to combat a plague-ridden reputation

sellings rats
Rats.

Not the easiest animal to convince people make good pets, but ones which I’ve found in the four or so years of owning them to be the cheekiest, most playful and surprisingly easiest small pet you could own.

A quick list of their benefits can include:

  1. Unlike Hamsters, Degus and Chinchillas, they’re not nocturnal and so will be awake when you are.
  2. Personality-wise they are a cross between a dog (playful, attentive, loyal) and a cat (wants cuddles/to be stroked, relaxed)
  3. Each rat has their own individual personality that can be developed depending on how you respond/act with them.
  4. Once you’ve gained their trust, they will consistently want your attention/to play/be stroked.
  5. They are very food-orientated as a species. No pet meets ‘the way to your heart is through your stomach’ mantra more than a rat.
  6. They are as clean as cats, especially if you litter-train them.
  7. They eat (or will at least try) pretty much anything (though high fat diet or citrus foods will have negative health effects).
  8. They grind their teeth together when happy (bruxing) and (when really happy/relaxed) they boggle their eyes.
  9. They’re both friendly and independent so bought in pairs or a trio, they will play with themselves when you’re doing other things.
  10. They are ridiculously intelligent. Check out the video below and see some of the many tricks you can teach them.

But, admitting to owning rats as pets does come with some interesting (and occasionally offensive) stereotypes – mainly born out of fear or even sheer ignorance.

rat

  • Assuming my home is filthy because of their presence?
  • Assuming they carry diseases like rabies and the plague (yes, as in the bubonic plague…which was carried by fleas.. not rats..)
  • I even had one classmate warn me that they could escape and attack me and my partner…

Don’t get me wrong, I can semi-understand why some people might find the tails off-putting, or why some may not like the threat of being bitten; but then saying that, you have a threat of being bitten by any pet if you hurt/upset it enough and the tails… well they’re easy to get used to after a while.

My original and aptly-named ‘Rat Pack’ consisted of five boys which I semi-rescued from a woman living in Sheffield (luckily for me she agreed to deliver them on the understanding that I’d pay petrol costs). Ranging in age and temperament from about 6 months and almost feral (never been handled) to approximately a year and a half year old love-bug, they quickly stole my heart, particularly after one of them suffered a stroke/severe fall shortly after arriving and so spent three days cuddled in my pocket so I could feed him medicine mixed in yoghurt every two hours.

The downside to caring for rats (or any rodent) however, is their short lifespan which averages at about 2-3 years, so my original rat pack are now all what is known as ‘over the rainbow bridge’ ie) rattie heaven.

Houdini (left) and Pebble. My current babies.

Houdini (left) and Pebble. My current babies.

I do however currently have a very licky, very attention-seeking, very food-orientated pair of boys whose faces I couldn’t resist when visiting Pets at Home last November.

*Saying that, I really do not recommend purchasing any small animal from a Pet store, particularly rats, due to the high risk of health or temperament issues that come from those environments – many pet store rats are bred and treated as snake food. Seriously, if you’re a novice or don’t want to risk having to trust train them, buy from trusted breeders; you’ll be saving yourself a lot of stress and hassle.

Very quickly, Houdini and Pebble came home to live – Pebble, named for the colour of his coat and the way he often sleeps (curled up in a ball as if about to do a forward roll), and Houdini who came by his name for the ridiculous speed in which he managed to escape not one but three of the cases I was expected to carry him home in.

Winning over the hearts of those who are afraid or flat-out dislike rats however, is not an easy task. Historically they’ve been a species cursed with a bad reputation, and counteracting the ‘plague-ridden, aggressive, you-will-die’ stereotype is often a task that meets a lot of resistance. People are comfortable in their own world view and questioning that/showing them that a belief/fear that many have held since childhood is false, isn’t always appreciated unless approached with care.

There are five key strategies that I have tried to take in building and defending ratty reputations. These are:

1. Be authoritative

Communicating strongly and knowledgeably goes a long way to making everyone else believe you understand what you’re talking about and that you’re the leader and authority in your area. Conveying your message with powerful, emotive words as well as with conviction will make you more believable and will make your audience more receptive to your message.

2. Be specific

Your message needs to be clear and easily conveyed. In this case, that’s pretty easy given the simplicity of both the subject and the stance ie) ‘Rat’s are awesome and everyone should love them!’, but in most cases, issues and brands can have more complex, more multi-layered connotations and thus need focused and specific communications to be believed by the recipient audience. It’s no good telling someone how great rats are if you can’t explain to the person why you like them and what makes them a good pet.

3. Be consistent

Being consistent when showing pictures and videos that contest the ‘ewwww gross’ mentality reinforces the message and shows people how loving and playful rats truly are without overcomplicating or confusing the issue.

4. Be honest

Every pet (and brand for that matter) has annoying quirks and habits. Being honest about them (they chew anything rubbery or wooden, and will use your clothes to make nests given half the chance) and admitting the downsides (they can smell if not cleaned regularly) increases your credibility and means that when you talk about the good things, you’re more likely to be believed. Integrity goes a long way after all.

5. Be relentless

Commit yourself to getting the positive message out there. People are inundated with a myriad of messages each day and when it comes to rats – lets be honest – the vast majority are not going to be positive ones. It’s not only critical therefore that you try to stand out amongst the static but equally that you are not forgotten. Follow up with people you’ve had past discussions with to reinforce not only your message but also the relationships you are building.

Overall, I’ve had a lot of success.

I mean it’s hard for people to retain the belief in the evil/disgusting/diseased stereotype when they are faced with the grabby-handed puppy eyes of two very adorable fluffballs.

There are of course going to be a small percentage of people whose opinions will be immovably negative. The RepTrak Alignment Monitor, developed by Cees van Riel for The Reputation Institute, measure employee alignment and contribution to the objectives and performance of an organisation. It suggests that although 10% of employees will automatically respond positively to change and 70% respond given adequate persuasion, 20% will remain consistently negative in their response.

The key I think is making sure to reinforce the positive messages I’m promoting to the 80% majority whilst never giving up on winning over that remaining stubborn 20% to my way of thinking – after all, their stubbornness gives me plenty of opportunities for rodent evangelism on a personal one-on-one basis.

From Russia with “love”

Russian Chocolatiers: Konfael have taken wooing your loved one a step further than most this year by celebrating its ‘Women’s Day’ with confectionery with a particularly ‘political’ flavour, satirically poking fun at Western sanctions against Russia over its armed intervention in Ukraine

_81128842_chocsThe selection boxes – adorned with famous Soviet-era-styled propaganda posters – are stylised to include biting couplets (such as “Don’t mouth off, gentlefolk dear/That Obama’s bound to hear!” blazoned beneath the image of a World War II female factory worker warning against gossip), and patriotic slogans like “For Western currency we have no need/A golden ruble – at full speed!” – used to emphasise the perceived power of Russia’s resource-based economy.

A man who needs no shirt

He is a man who needs no shirt.

One box (my favourite example)  features the verse “To be king, when all are ‘ifs’ and ‘buts’/You need a pair of rock-hard nuts” below a photograph of President Putin in sunglasses. This being the same man whose last presidential campaign featured an advertisement which saw a young Russian female visit a fortune-teller who (after being asked to reveal the girl’s “destiny”) informs the girl that her “first time” will be with the presidential candidate as she turns the card revealing Putin’s image.

Regardless on my distaste for Putin’s presidency (his KGB background is the least of my concerns despite perhaps explaining the mentality behind his foreign policy), its hard not to respect a leader who seems to centre a considerable amount of his party’s PR and advertising around how fabulously ‘manly’ he is.

Anyway, Konfael’s marketing strategy has resulted in a mixed response, appearing to leave the majority of its social media respondents with a bad taste in their mouths. Although a few users commented with their own witty comebacks (like Jonathan Grainger’s: “Confael’s Chocolates trigger Odium / Warning: May Contain Polonium!”), many more were disgusted at the brands politicising, some of whose statements I’ve listed below:

Anna Pavlova: “Konfael – I often took you gifts to kindergarten and school for children and teachers. So, our parent committees now [have to] find other gifts. Think next time [with] your head.”

Tatiana Glezer: “I have no words. Stupid, vulgar and beats all desire to buy your products.”

Andrey Lavrov “Just wondering, have you got a real Putinism-brain on the basis of television propaganda, or are you just such creatures that consciously decided to connect to the propaganda for the sake of an extra penny for your Business?”

It’s clear to see how Konfael has tried to tap into Russia’s internationally-famed nationalism, and, in the face of the country’s current political and economic concerns, it’s a little understandable as to why they’ve taken this approach. However, the brand has clearly not done a vast amount of market research prior to developing this product, and thus its request for feedback on its Facebook page (a platform that actively connects people across the world) was probably the first step in why the range’s launch has backfired so badly.

Politics is known for being a tricky and polarising topic for discussion at the best of times, and Russia’s recent actions have generated an increased level of drama and speculation across the world… Asking for feedback on an internationally open forum and for a product that not only raises issues in the country’s international standing (the version belittling regular Kremlin hate-figure, Jen Psaki (US State Department spokeswoman) is particularly callous) but also issues WITHIN its borders (judging from the numerous references to Soveit-nostalgia for gulags and pickled herring) is therefore probably not the smartest marketing ploy…

Hacks Vs Flaks: Are we really so different?

The relationship between journalist and PR officer is one of the most valuable – but often one of the most difficult – to foster and maintain. For a long time there has been a sort of “love/hate relationship” between the two professions, with journalists often calling publicists “flacks” and publicists calling journalists “hacks” – albeit rarely in earshot of one another.

I know that during my time studying Journalism (and International Relations) for my Bachelors degree, lecturers (who were invariably ex or freelance journalists themselves) would often teasingly refer to the public relations industry as “the dark side of Journalism”, a reputation which has in no way benefited from the widely reported actions of those such as Max Clifford (both within PR and within his personal life). I’ll admit that this reputation did initially put me in mind of a certain sci-fi film trilogy from the 70’s and 80’s (the ‘prequels’ do not count), but today I ask, “Are we really so different?”

Honestly, I can see where some journalists with this viewpoint might be coming from. After all, in ‘Propaganda’, Edward Bernays is famously quoted as saying “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organised habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. …We are governed, our minds are moulded, our tastes formed, our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of.”

"PR, I AM your father"

“PR, I AM your father”

Thought to be one of, if not THE, founding father of public relations, Bernays’ statement does not paint a particularly good portrait, particularly when trying to refute the bad PR that PR has experienced. Personally though, I think there are two ways of looking at public relations.

The CIPR (also known as the Chartered Institute for Public Relations) defines public relations as being a discipline focused on managing reputation with the intention of “earning understanding and support, and influencing opinion and behaviour”. Its focus is clear in its attempt to re-imagine PR as a respected, ethical and rigorous profession – something which has long been an aim of the organisation.

The PRCA (Public Relations Consultants Association) on the other hand, whilst equally stating that “Public relations is all about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you”, states that the practice is predominantly “used to gain trust and understanding between an organisation and its various stakeholders.” This (to me at least) is more suggestive of the PRCA’s focus on the industry as practice rather than as a profession.

But, regardless of whether you consider PR as a profession or a practice, is there really so much difference between the industry and journalism? Especially now that so many hacks and flaks are sitting on the fence and dipping in and out of both Journalism and PR throughout their careers?

Sheldon Rampton, co-author of “Toxic Sludge Is Good For You! Lies, Damn Lies and the Public Relations Industry” and research director of PR Watch, stated in 2007 that “In a lot of ways, P.R. people do the legwork for journalists — feeding them stories and sources, and doing research.” With the growth of social media and the subsequent changing role of journalists as ‘gatekeepers’, brands are now more able than ever to create their own content which can then be pitched to increasing numbers of niche and mainstream publications in real-time. This ties in to Bernays’ view that “modern business must have its finger continuously on the public pulse. It must understand the changes in the public mind and be prepared to interpret itself fairly and eloquently to changing opinion” – a view which, to me, sums up the precise point of what PR (when engaging with journalists) allows its clients (and the journalists themselves) to do.

Instead of joining “the dark side”, to me, public relations and journalism are two sides of the same coin. Perhaps it is my optimism showing, but the biggest difference I can so far see on the surface of each industry (so far at least), appears to be the presence or lack thereof of bias within a press release and/or article. I know there’s FAR more to both professions than this but I genuinely see the two as mirrors rather than warring factions.

Therefore, perhaps rather than the love/hate/name-calling relationship PR executives and journalists have at present, they could instead recognise that their relationship is one which is symbiotic in nature, and that both professions have qualities to offer and, in cases of bad practice, negative aspects that need to be managed.

For me, Bernays said this best when he stated: “It is asked whether, in fact, the leader makes propaganda, or whether propaganda makes the leader. There is a widespread impression that a good press agent can puff up a nobody into a great man. The answer is the same as that made to the old query as to whether the newspaper makes public opinion or whether public opinion makes the newspaper. There has to be fertile ground for the leader and the idea to fall on. But the leader also has to have some vital seed to sow.”

Bluntly put, “A mutual need has to exist before either [profession] can become positively effective. Propaganda [or public relations] is of no use to the politician[/brand/organisation] unless he[/they] has[ve] something to say which the public, consciously or unconsciously, wants to hear.”

Make love, not war, guys. We’ve all got something to offer.

“Everyone communicates”: The growing role of corporate communications and stakeholder relations

It is said that a business’ reputation is all that stands between its profit and its ruin, and in the past decade, I believe that this has never been more true. Since the advent and growth of Web2.0, organisations have come under increasing levels of scrutiny from both the general public and their competitors, who would no doubt seize upon and exploit any negative press so as to advance their own corporate strategy.

According to Dahlen, “Everything and everyone communicates” (2010), with advances in technology meaning that we all now have the ability to communicate and share our opinions publicly. Social media is not only a key example of this (through websites such as Facebook, Twitter and WordPress), but in particular, has become a medium through which we can visibly see the ways we shape the content of our online personas to reflect varying aspects of our identities. In Communications, be it the marketing, advertising or public relations industry, this is an even more apparent phenomenon as we increasingly tailor our words towards different groups, altering what we say on behalf of our clients’ brands and the ways in which we say it depending on our relationship with (and knowledge of) the recipients. This can be a double-edged challenge for businesses who are expected to not only utilise digital platforms as an outlet for external communications, but also to directly communicate and have conversations with their stakeholders, particularly their customers.

In seeing the vast opportunities opened by online platforms and social media, businesses are now capitalising on and engaging more and more with social media – a recent survey found 79% have used or planned to use social media. However a 2013 study by Fishburn Hedges and Jigsaw Research exploring the changing nature of corporate narratives, found that businesses’ self-portrayals were still not sufficiently engaging to their audiences, with 20% of the general public surveyed stating that they don’t believe brand ‘stories’ at all and 52% claiming to not believe brand stories if they are conveyed through advertising and communications.

From corporate social responsibility to crisis management, effective communications between companies and their stakeholders is becoming an increasingly vital element for a successful business practice. The CIPR defines public relations as being “about reputation – the result of what you do, what you say and what others say about you. Public relations is the discipline which looks after reputation, with the aim of earning understanding and support and influencing opinion and behaviour. It is the planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain goodwill and mutual understanding between an organisation and its public.”

rep

This is corroborated by Simon Matthews, Chief Executive of Fishburn Hedges, who said: “Audiences can see right through business messages that don’t correlate with corporate behaviour. Corporate communications has an opportunity to help unify different organisational voices and bridge the gap between them to be a force for cultural good within the business.”

It’s no longer enough to shout about how amazing you are on social media, the public (particularly young people) are becoming increasingly savvy in spotting companies whose behaviour doesn’t live up to its advertising. McDonald’s for example, is currently spiralling into a long-predicted reputational crisis where its recurrent US labour law violations and unappetising news reports on food content and quality has led to significantly sagging sales. To quote Jim Hightower, “You know your business has what image consultants call “quality perception issues” when you have to launch a PR initiative that publicly addresses such questions as: “Does McDonald’s beef contain worms?”

McDonald’s is paying the price for its lack of corporate and communicational consistency, and is left on the defensive in trying to mitigate some of the negative publicity it now faces. If they had instead taken a proactive approach in identifying and approaching their stakeholders, they would have been able to categorise them based on either Mendelow’s Power and Influence Matrix or Mitchell, Agle and Wood’s Salience Model, and establish, not only their motivations and areas of concern, but also the best ways in which to manage or engage. Instead the brand is left scrambling to distract from its poor media coverage through a new ad campaign centred on linking its Golden Arches to the healing power of ‘love’.

Without changing to more fair and equal corporate practices though, I’m hesitant in thinking that anyone will be Lovin’ this brand’s attempts to regain it’s reputation.

Despite its sparkle, do parts of this campaign fall a little flat?

Without doubt, the Christmas period is a competitive time for advertisers, particularly those managing big brand clients. The campaigns they’ve been polishing for the best part of the year are all now published and visible for the world – and its myriads of consumers – to see.

Why then is it that the launch of this year’s M&S TV advert (created by Rainey Kelly Campbell Roalfe/Y&R), with its somewhat charmingly stylised ‘#FollowTheFairies‘ twitter campaign and ‘Christmas is better with magic and sparkle’ strapline, feels somewhat… contrived?

As you can see above, the two fairies named ‘Magic’ and ‘Sparkle’ zip across rooftops whilst painting their nails and rescuing cats, spreading joy and kindness (and examples of some of the brand’s Christmas clothing line) across the UK. The ad, which now has more than 3 million views on Youtube, has been hailed by the Independent as “one of the best Christmas campaigns for 2014” but, despite it being viral, and charming, and beautifully put-together, I’m not sure I’m sold.

Patrick Bousquet-Chavanne, Executive Director of Marketing and International at M&S said: “The magic of Christmas is how it brings out that little part in all of us that wants to believe in the extraordinary. It’s a moment to escape the realities of every day and give in to the joyfulness of the festive spirit.

“We wanted to capture that feeling and bring Magic and Sparkle to life in a fun and light-hearted way that spreads a little cheer.”

Don’t misunderstand me; tapping into what is lovingly referred to as “The most wonderful time of year” (to quote the Andy Williams classic) is very understandable… but also pretty… well.. boring, if I’m honest; if that was the SMP, particularly for what is supposed to be the most important campaign of the year, it just seems a bit obvious.

Saying all that however, there are aspects of this campaign that I do genuinely love.

Unity PR’s contribution of a mysterious Twitter account called @TheTwoFairies which trailed the ad’s release, spread the “magic” of Christmas via the hashtag #FollowTheFairies, and have been spotted in Birmingham, Newcastle, London, Glasgow and Manchester delivering surprise gifts of cakes, tea and make-up to people across the UK who had posted wishes on Twitter.

It’s most ‘magical’ gift (so far at least) has been to surprise the pupils of Britain’s most southerly school (Landewednack Primary in Cornwall) by covering the building in “snow”. With a lot of experience assisting in Primary classes growing up (Mum’s a Headteacher), I’m a sucker for happy children, and I’d argue its hard to find a child who does not get excited at even the mere hint of snow, so this particular ‘gift’, I find, really touching.

That combined with all sales proceeds of the ad’s accompanying single track (Gregory Porter and Julie London’s “Fly me to the moon”) going to the UK’s ‘Make a Wish’ charity, and it becomes hard to slate.

Advertising-wise, I don’t believe this is one of M&S’s best Christmas attempts, but its definitely hard to say “Bah Humbug” when the accompanying PR and CSR aspects are so sugar-plum sweet. Even if the concept itself isn’t something that I feel has particular consumer insight, I have to admit, there is something ‘magical’ about what M&S has tried to accomplish this year.

Embedded Journalists: “Propaganda Merchants”, or providers of a much-needed human perspective?

Since its use during the 2003 media coverage of the Iraq War, ‘Embedded Journalism’ has become a form now easily recognisable to the general public. In contrast to being an independent or affiliated “war correspondent” (whose role is to deliberately go to the most conflict-ridden areas and provide written or photographic accounts of the events there), an “embedded” journalists instead attach themselves to, and thus travel with, a unit of the armed forces, recording and reporting on the activity of the soldiers in question as well as their own experiences of living amongst them.

This position could be argued as being quite a controversial practice due to widespread criticism in some circles by those who claim that embedded journalists’ main purpose is to act as a part of a generalised propaganda campaign, or that it is only being utilised in an effort to control the portrayal of the events of said conflict. Journalist, Gay Talese, for example; summarised this opinion best, stating “Those correspondents who drive around in tanks and armoured personnel carriers, who are spoon-fed what the military gives them and become mascots for the military”. I intend to explore how far his statement might be true, in addition to analysing the benefits of ‘embedding’ with the intent of establishing the true purpose and effectiveness of journalists acting in this role.

The new position for some journalists to become embedded in a military unit, can be explained in a 2003 report by the US Department of Defence which states that; “Commanders and Public Affairs Officers must work together to balance the need for media access and the need for operational security” due to their belief that, “the media coverage of any future operation will, to some extent, shape public perception of the national security environment.”

It can be said that it was this ‘need’ by governments, amongst other factors, which meant that conflict media representatives, such as embedded journalists for example, now face reporting on a broad range of situations – from conventional warfare to acts of extremism – which are arguably as confusing as they are complex. The very nature of their work means that they’re required to be at the forefront of unfolding events in the region, whether that means their covering of the unveiling of a new government programme, or the eruption of fresh hostilities between two opposing factions. It is this level of responsibility that makes solving, or at the very least understanding, the controversy over the use of embedded journalists in the military so important.

The first main benefit which can be taken from embedded journalists’ work is their ability to secure first-hand access of the events as they unfold. This means that the speed in which events can be reported back to a news agency or organisation is vastly improved, allowing for media outlets in journalists’ home countries to be able to regularly access numerous reports and information on a large number of events from a wide variety of sources. Journalist, Susan Stephenson, quoted in Berman (2003), concisely highlighted this benefit when she said that, it is “the sense of immediacy and humanity that made our stories very real today”. Her opinion on the matter is also supported in Getler (2003) where she states that “many news organisations now have a cadre of journalists who have some real knowledge and understanding of the military”, which of course is essential to prevent misunderstanding and miscommunication with the public that might otherwise discredit their role and thus damage their believability.

The second benefit: ‘Believability’, is vitally important in media as it forms the basis for the public’s opinion of any journalist or News organisation, therefore directly affecting shaping its readership in addition to its standing amongst its competitors. Appearing to be believable and engaging is something that embedded journalists aim to achieve in their articles and broadcasts which seek to counteract the growing levels of public distrust for official reports delivered by the military which are being more and more commonly dismissed as propaganda aimed at supporting a government’s ‘agenda’.

The number of journalists present in an area, in addition to the range of personnel within the units with whom they’re placed, forms a third ‘benefit’ of using embedded reporters because it allows for an increased number of ‘believable’ and ‘human’ angles due to embedded journalists’ ability to access multiple sources and hear different perspectives directly from the source. Alongside this ease of access to a variety of personal experiences, embedded journalists also are able to act as metaphorical ‘watchdogs’, holding the military to account through observing military activity and ensuring that legal and ethical standards are being upheld during combat.

Living amongst military personnel as a member of said unit allows almost free and open access to the journalist to cover and broadcast on a wide variety of stories from the horrifying coverage of an explosion, to the mundane coverage of the living conditions, or day-to-day lives of those they live amongst.

As said by General Buford Blout the Third, in Synovitz (2003); “The embedding process is an attempt to get reporters to tell the ‘army story’ more actively, by allowing them to share the experience and rank of soldiers in the field”, whereas Lieutenant Commander Jeff Davis recognises the value of “having independent journalists say in an unbiased way what the truth is”…… “It is something people will benefit from by having a true understanding of what is going on” (McClintock, 2003). However it can be said that the role of a journalist who is embedded in a military unit is most easily summarised by journalist, Dan Suwyn, in Bartholomew (2003a) where he simply states that “all we can do [as journalists] is to try and make a local connection with a war halfway across the world.”

Overall it could be said that, all of these benefits allow for a more improved and streamlined relationship between the government, its military, and the media representatives tasked with reporting on conflicts. The inevitable regular, close contact between military and the media could be said to potentially lead to the development of mutual trust between the two, ideally leading to the increased connections that facilitate the flow of information between the armed forces, government and members of the public and subsequently increasing military transparency – a goal touted by the majority of critics as being a big step in “the right direction.”

However, some argue that there’s not been a step at all.

Prior to joining a military unit, journalists are required to sign a contract that aims to restrict when and what they are able to report on. In addition to this, the unit’s commander is able to declare a “blackout” for security reasons, whereby the journalist is unable to report at all via satellite connection as this may be traced by the ‘enemy’ so as to secure the unit’s location. Although written and signed with good intentions, critics argue that by signing such a contract, journalists are constricted into reporting primarily from a single, narrow viewpoint; namely that of the military.

Journalist, Jack Lawrence, appears to have summarised the difficulty of being in a position of knowledge yet unable to share it when he says, “The challenge of knowing so much and being able to say only in general terms what you do know in a live or nearly live broadcast is extraordinarily difficult. I am holding in my head all the information whilst at the same time as I am centring myself and ad-libbing to a host who is asking questions that I could so easily answer and give away information that would break the ground rules” (Jensen, 2003).

Even past US Secretary of Defence, Donald Rumsfeld stated that “What we are seeing is not the war in Iraq; what we’re seeing are slices of the war in Iraq” (op cit), cautioning that being so close to the action does not necessarily mean the portrayal is complete.

“We’re seeing that particular perspective that that reporter, or that commentator or that television camera, happens to be able to see at that moment, and it is not what’s taking place. What you see is taking place, to be sure, but it’s one slice, and it is the totality of that which is what this war is about” (Ibid).

The second key issue raised in embedding journalists is the media’s dependency on advertisers “looking to appeal to an audience determined by the stories and journalists chosen by the owners and investors” (Tuosto, 2008). It is arguably this issue which holds sway over all others, namely: the potential for sensationalism, the potential for media or personal bias, and the risk for the ‘human’ perspective outweighing the much-needed critical analysis of events.

I have come to the conclusion that, in a general sense at least, the benefits of embedding journalists far outweigh the issues they create. It is only when embedding becomes the primary method of reporting on conflict that it creates a skewed image of events due to the journalists’ confinement to a small segment of the battlefield with only restricted movements outside it. This is because, although it allows them to gain a deep understanding of the lives of military personnel and the locals that they are surrounded by, it restricts them into seeing enemy combatants from the purely a one-sided perspective, rarely giving the public the opportunities to see things from an opposing viewpoint outside of ‘official’ reports. It is this fact, I believe, which leads to the potential for media bias and sensationalism. As explained by The Independent’s Opinion Correspondent, Ian Burrell; “War reporting is easy to do, but difficult to do well. Wars rouse such passions that editors and senior producers in home offices seldom retain healthy journalistic scepticism” (Burrell, 2010).

It is with this in mind that has shaped my view that, although embedding journalists in military units is an important step in providing the public with a deeper understanding of the military whilst also allowing for effective reporting of localised events; it is only when they, i.e. embedded journalists, are balanced alongside a variety of other media representatives whose roles fill in the informational and perspective ‘gaps’, that an accurate and fair representation of conflicts will be possible, and scepticism regarding whether embedded journalists are purely propaganda merchants will be silenced. Until then, it will be continued to be argued that “whilst viewers might be seeing more of the war than ever before, they may actually be learning less, albeit in a more spectacular way” (Hoon, 2003a).

References:

Bartholomew, R., (2003a) “Embeds from smaller papers take different approach”. Available at: http://editorandpublisher.com/edtiorpublisher/headlines/article_display.jsp?vnu_content_id=186026a

Berman, A., (2003) “So far, editors pleased with embedded reporters”. Available at: http://www.editorandpublisher.p…/cpt?action=cpt&expire=&url1ID=5764107&fb=Y&partnerID=6

Burrell, I., (2010) “Embedded Journalism: a distorted view of war”. The Independent. Available at: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/media/opinion/embedded-journalism-a-distorted-view-of-war-2141072.html

Getler, M., (2003) “Close up and vivid reporting”. Available at: http://www.washingtonpost.com

Hoon, G., (2003a) “No lense is wide enough to show the big picture”. Available at: http://www.Times_online.co.uk

Jensen, E., (2003) “Veteren reporters go to war”. Available at: http://www.latimes.com

McClintock, P., (2003) “Embedded journalists draw fire”. Available at: http://www.xtramsn.co.nz/entertainment/0,,3911-2224949,00.html

Synovitz, R., (2003) “Iraq: Pentagon starts embedding reporters with troops in an effort to tell ‘army story’”. Available at: http://www.rferl.org/nca/features/2003/03/11032003184830.asp.

Tuosto, K., (2008) “The ‘Grunt Truth’ of Embedded Journalism: The new media/military relationship”.  Stanford Journal of International Relations, Vol 10, No. 1, Fall/Winter 2008. Available at: http://www.stanford.edu/group/sjir/pdf/journalism_real_final_v2.pdf

US Department of Defence. (2003) “Public affairs guidance on embedding media during possible future operations”. Available at: http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Feb2003/d20030228pag.pdf