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This is a blog and you are reading it, perhaps by chance, or perhaps by recommendation. But as one of millions of blogs in hyperspace, it has uncertain life and leverage. While social media is the media du jour, it is still uncertain that it is setting agendas.

Agenda setting is one of those terms media and journalism professors and students bandy around. It essentially means that what is in the newspapers – normally on page 1 – becomes the agenda for other media and henceforth, us.

Watch television news tonight and take note of how many stories are sourced from today’s papers. (Note: by “papers”, I mean the main news press, increasingly electronic-based.)

Assuming that newspapers still curry favour with television and radio news editors – and it makes sense, considering their news budgets must be almost zero now – it is alarming to consider research which shows the influence of public relations (PR) practitioners on the content of news media.

University of Technology’s Jim Macnamara (2010) reports that 32 per cent of PR stories  were published in Australian national, state or capital city media in 1992. Strumendo and Bacon (2010) found journalists relied extensively on public relations, with at least 41 per cent of press articles and 52 per cent of broadcast news items containing PR materials which played an agenda-setting role or where the PR material made up the bulk of the story. Strumendo and Bacon noted that reporters often failed to attribute the PR source and raised questions about journalistic independence.

With news budgets increasingly tightened, there is more reliance on outside sources and commercial agendas.

Accountability journalism is being threatened. Yes, newspapers have always been subsidized by advertising but the great amorphous mass of advertising that existed in the recent past meant that dominant commercial players had a harder time influencing the agenda of journalists and editors.

Less general advertising means shrinking news budgets and more of a reliance on sources from public relations.

Where do we go for independent journalism? Is the taxpayer-funded ABC our only hope?

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