State-Run Media…In Indiana

In my end-of-the-year post on the state of the PR industry, I lamented over the paradoxical predicament in which many PR pros now find themselves: is our industry flourishing with bold new ways for engaging audiences (sans journalistic scrutiny), or has our ability to engage journalists on a client’s behalf diminished to the point of futility? The answer to both questions, I suppose, is yes, but to different degrees.

I also warned the PR profession of the risks it takes by public disseminating “news” content whose basis in fact is dubious at best. As Jacob Harris recently noted in a piecer for Nieman Journalism Labs titled “A wave of P.R. data:”

“The wave of bullshit data is rising, and now it’s our turn to figure out how not to get swept away.”

Nieman-LabHe followed up that piece with another “Sloppy P.R. charticles considered harmful,” in which he noted:

“They’re everywhere: Tidbits of “data journalism” produced by companies looking for a viral boost. Your skepticism is warranted.”

I share Mr. Harris’s concern, but more as it relates to the future viability and influence of my chosen profession, which already suffers from credibility issues. If we are to create “news” content, we must work especially hard to insure that it’s both transparent and founded in supportable data. If all companies today are “media companies,” it’s incumbent that they adhere to some semblance of good journalistic practices.

What about when an elected official decides to get into the content marketing game…at taxpayer expense no less?

We all know what’s going on in Putin’s Russia where opposing journalists are murdered and the state controls the news to which its citizens have access.


Gannett’s Indy Star reported:

“Gov. Mike Pence is starting a state-run taxpayer-funded news outlet that will make pre-written news stories available to Indiana media, as well as sometimes break news about his administration, according to documents obtained by The Indianapolis Star. Pence is planning in late February to launch “Just IN,” a website and news outlet that will feature stories and news releases written by state press secretaries and is being overseen by a former Indianapolis Star reporter, Bill McCleery.”

Of course, the insinuation that Gov. Pence is taking a propagandizing page from the Russian despot did not sit too well in the Governor’s mansion. He was forced to issue a clarification:

“Pence played down his administration’s plans to start a news site Tuesday and said he would be providing more information about the plan soon. ‘Reports that this was intended to be a news agency, I think just represent an understandable misunderstanding based on some internal communications that I read about in the press,’ Pence said…”

Sure, companies and elected officials make news. In the past, these newsmakers were assessed for accuracy and newsworthiness by bona fide journalists before going public. No longer, and that perhaps does not bode well for the greater public good, let alone a PR profession increasingly charged with creating branded and issue-oriented content in spite of the monetary windfall it has produced.

Update: 5pm ET, Jan 28: “Pence: State-run media site not happening”