Parkinson’s Law for Spin Doctors

September 3, 2007 • Public Relations • by

Schweizer Journalist, August/September 2007
The extent to which independent journalism is threatened by PR and spin doctoring is illustrated by the figures presented in the latest issue of the British Journalism Review. Paul Routledge, columnist for the Daily Mirror, takes a closer look at the press coverage of social policy and the way British labour unions try to influence it.

During the 1970s, the Association of British Labour Unions TUC supported exactly one press officer, with most individual unions having none at all. Today, TUC employs dozens of them – despite the fact that overall union membership has decreased by more than 50%. Papers’ editorial staffs, today, are clearly lacking journalists with a background in social policy. Routledge believes to have found a General Law of Spin Doctoring, also applicable to unions and their PR work: “the number of press officers working for labour unions is inversely proportional to the number of hours invested in actual union work.”

In another study, Martin Moore, a veteran journalist who last worked as a researcher and lecturer at the renowned London School of Economics, has analysed the increase in the number of PR consultants working for the British government. In 1931, their number stood at 44 – while today, there are 3,200 of them, “not counting the various ‘special consultants’, the large communication departments, Downing Street’s very own devoted team of spin doctors, the government’s advertising budget of £230 million, plus a total of 950 dedicated websites.”

(Paul Routledge, “Meeting Spin with spin”, British Journalism Review, vol. 18, no. 1/2007, pp. 29-33; Martin Moore, “Public Interest, media neglect”, British Journalism Review, no. 2/June 2007, pp. 33-40. See Moore’s latest book for more details: The Origins of Modern Spin, Palgrave: MacMillan, 2007).

Translation: Oliver Heinemann
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