From ‘data bombing’ to ‘dead cats’ – new book puts spotlight on PR industry

Front cover of Anne Cronin's new book

What we see, and don’t see, in the media is shaped by a range of ‘shadowy practices’ of secrecy and needs close investigation, a Lancaster University Professor of Cultural Sociology claims.

The PR industry is particularly adept at orchestrating this, but its own practices remain obscure, says Professor Anne Cronin.

Practices of secrecy are currently shifting, impacting significantly on the media, audiences, democratic debate, and wider society, she adds.

Her new hard-hitting book ‘Secrecy in Public Relations, Mediation and News Cultures: The Shadow World of the Media Sphere’ published today by Routledge, investigates the relationship of secrecy as a social practice to contemporary media, news cultures and public relations.

Drawing on a theory of how secrecy produces a ‘second world’ alongside the ‘obvious world’ and creates and reshapes social relations, the book argues for close analysis of the PR industry as a powerful vector of secrecy and an examination of its relationship to news cultures.

Using case studies and in-depth interviews, the book argues that PR practices generate a second, shadow world of the media sphere which has a profound impact on the ‘obvious world’.

It interrogates both the PR industry’s and news culture’s role in shaping social relations for a digital media landscape, and those initiatives promoting transparency of data and decision-making processes.

“PR conceals information through ‘data bombing’ – hiding significant information in a vast release of material,” says Professor Cronin.

“It discredits information to enable institutional ‘deniability’; it misdirects public attention through distraction (‘dead cats’) and it engages in ‘astroturfing’ (creating fake public opinion).

“Such secrecy practices impact on the media sphere’s ability to provide reliable information and to operate as a space for democratic debate. ‘Fake news’ is just one version of manipulation – PR’s secrecy practices include more subtle and insidious techniques.”

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