Almost everything the general public knows of corporations and other organizations is mediated by the mass media. This is especially the case regarding strategic decisions, policymaking, and managerial behaviors. Consequently, the mass media seem to be used by organizations as key publics for public relations in building trust, especially since people tend to trust the media more than they do corporations or political parties. Eurobarometer 61 (European Commission 2004) shows that 71 percent of the European public trusts the radio (up from 63 percent in 2001), 61 percent trust television (up from 56 percent in 2001), and 56 percent trust newspapers (up from 40 percent in 2001).
Despite booming public relations efforts in all European countries (Van Ruler & Vercic 2005), 60 percent (in 2004, up from 57 percent in 2003) of the public in the European Union countries said that they do not trust big corporations. Only political parties ranked lower in this Eurobarometer (European Commission 2004). In the USA, trust in the news media is lower; Gallup polls show that only about 50 percent (in 2003) of the American public has confidence in the news media, down from about 70 percent in the 1970s. In 2004 only 30 percent of the American public said they had trust in newspapers and television news. Although these numbers are lower than in Europe, US trust in the media is still ahead of trust in big corporations, and American organizations also see the mass media as a key public, subsidizing journalists with all kinds of information (Geary 2005).
Organizations And The Media
The use of public relations subsidies by journalists seems to be enormous. The term “public relations subsidy” is used to describe the activities public relations and public information professionals undertake to provide journalists with information for free. In exchange for this service journalists are expected to make the given information public and thereby legitimize its content (Prenger & Van Vree 2004; Sallot & Johnson 2006). Hallahan (1999) talks about 50 percent of the news coming from these information subsidies; Merten (2004) even speaks of 80 percent. “The relationship between sources and journalists resembles a dance,” as Gans had already said in 1979 on the basis of his empirical studies of the news, “for sources seek access to journalists and journalists seek access to sources. Although it takes two to tango, either sources or journalists can lead, but more often than not, sources do the leading” (Gans 2004, 116).
It is, however, also clear that journalists do not act merely as a pipeline to publics, as many public relations authors as well as professionals tend to believe (Van Ruler 2003). That is why Bentele (2005) talks about the reconstruction of the organizational news by journalists into a final portrayal of the organization. In other words, there seems to be a complex relationship between organizations and mass media. In public relations literature, building trust is nowadays seen as a key issue in the field, replacing issues like supplying information and image building or creation (e.g., Grunig 2001; Bentele 2005). The press plays an important role in this process of building trust, and the interdependence of organizations, the mass media, and the public sphere has been called a “ménage à trois” by Van Ruler (2004). In public relations literature, the complex relationship between organizations, the press, and the public sphere has not yet been described or conceptualized in detail. To conceptualize this ménage à trois, the theoretical concepts of mediazation and mediatization can be helpful.
Mediazation Of Culture
The concept of mediazation describes the influence of media and of media organizations on the cultural transformations associated with the rise of modern societies (Thompson 1995). This mediazation of culture is seen as a process of cultural change, mainly explained by the increasing number of the mass media and their omnipresence in (post)modern societies. A lot of interaction in today’s society is mediated by some kind of media.
In the last decades of the twentieth century, mediazation extended, especially within the media field. Thompson (1995, 110 –111) writes that “it has become common for media messages to be taken up by other media organizations and incorporated into new media messages . . . There is a relatively high degree of self referentiality within the media, in the sense that media messages commonly refer to other media messages or to events reported in the media.” Because of this “extented mediazation,” the mass media’s role as an intermediary between actors in society, facilitating communication, is diminishing, and some say the media are actively creating a reality of their own: a media reality. The concept of extended mediazation resonates with other theories and notions about the mass media such as media logic, media worlds (Altheide & Snow 1979, 1991) and media hypes (Vasterman 2004).
Mediatization Of Institutions
Some say that mediazation as described above is not only a cultural change but has also led to a change within the institutions of the modern society (e.g. Altheide & Snow 1979; Altheide 2004). Following German sociologist Max Weber, who described how the rationalization of institutions was preceded by the rationalization of culture in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the mediazation of culture in the twentieth century might lead to a mediatization of the institutions of (post)modern society. The economic sector could be one of the first sectors of society where such a change is visible, because of the quest of private and public organizations for customers, profits, trust, and legitimacy. The concept of mediatization (see Kaase 1998; Mazzoleni & Schulz 1999; Kepplinger 2002; Schulz 2004; Schrott 2005) might therefore be useful to understand how organizations are coping with the mediazation of culture and their portrayal in the mass media. The question is how organizations cope with media logic and how media logic influences organization logic (Van Ruler 2004) and vice versa.
The term “mediatization” can be used to describe the penetration of mass media and their logic into other social systems, e.g., organizations in society (Mazzoleni & Schulz 1999; Kepplinger 2002). Schulz (2004) has said that mediatization is not only the accommodation of media logic by actors and organizations in society. He suggested explicating mediatization further “with reference to basic performances and function of the medium in communication processes” (Schulz 2004, 98) in order to make the concept applicable to not only the traditional mass media, but also the new media and the role they play in society. Schrott (2005) has taken the concept of mediatization a step further again and proposed an analytical concept of mediatization for empirical research in the political field. Here mediatization is understood as an institutionalization process by which media logic is established as a pattern of orientation and interpretation within political institutions. These patterns of orientation are seen as implicit regulation systems, which overlay or even complement political or economic or scientific regulation systems (Schrott 2005).
Schrott (2005) proposes to operationally define mediatization in five dimensions of institutionalization. These five dimensions are (1) causes of and criteria for conforming to media rules and media logic; (2) the context in which these causes and criteria evolve into orientation frames for actors; (3) sanctions and control in order to enforce conformism to media logic; (4) the externalization of contingencies, so that only those problems will be dealt with that can be solved with media logic; and (5) concurrence with regulation patterns other than media logic for interpretive power.
Schrott proposes “a non-normative and therefore neutral definition” (2005, 17) of mediatization as an analytical model for mass communication research in a wide range of empirical contexts, for example in the fields of politics and science. This concept of mediatization also seems promising for the analysis of mediatization processes in the economic field, raising the empirical question of how organizations cope with their portrayal in the mass media and how this influences their patterns of orientation and interpretation as an institution.
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