Press/Politics, Nr. 6, 2001
This study develops a new concept in political communication theory called metacommunication.
It argues that metacommunication (1) describes a new, third stage in election coverage after issue and strategy coverage; (2) reflects the mass media’s new role as a political institution in the third age of political communication; and (3) can be seen as the news media’s response to a new, third force in news making: professional political PR. Metacommunication is defined as the news media’s selfreferential reflections on the nature of the interplay between political public relations and political journalism.While metacoverage can take two forms, self-referential news and process news, the present study puts the main emphasis on the latter. It argues that the coverage of campaign strategists and spin doctors can be seen as a prime
example of metadiscursive process news. A cross-country content analysis of “spin doctors in the press” reveals different profiles of metacoverage in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany that can be explained by the different media cultures and political PR cultures. While metacoverage is discussed as a new style of reporting to be welcomed in the view of professionalized political PR, journalism is inherently limited in analyzing PR adequately.