I’ve recently had a go at Dagbladet for their terrible storyon the HPV vaccine, and then for regurgitating some Daily Mail guff in the wake of the—in no way totally made up, honest—controversy surrounding Newcastle United Football Club’s muslim players following the club’s decision to be sponsored by Wonga, and I’m afraid it’s their turn again this weekend, this time for the perfect example of PR-driven ‘news’ story.
Yesterday’s Dagbladet (Saturday 17th) had a story on page 27 with the headline ‘Norwegians don’t take a holiday from their mobile’. The article reports some survey data which shows that 97% of Norwegians feel that they couldn’t cope with a holiday abroad without their mobile phones, 55% want WiFi in their hotel rooms, 74% want to know what’s going on back home and 31% of men and 17% of women check their work emails when away on holiday. Unfortunately, or fortunately, depending on how to you think about, the story isn’t available online, so I can’t link to it.
The first and most obvious problem with this article is that
we have no idea how many people were included in this survey
. Were there thousands of people or just a handful? Without knowing this, the numbers are essentially meaningless, and yet this key bit of info is missing. Not to mention the fact that who the respondents were and what, how, and why they were asked, are all important factors in how this survey ‘data’ can be interpreted.
That’s not just the only thing that got my back up though. Reading through the article, I was struck by just how closely it followed the model for PR-driven news articles that I first learned from Michael Marshall, of
, at a
meeting maybe a couple of years ago now. His talk on “How PR Came to Rule Modern Journalism” changed the way I read newspapers and I’d thoroughly recommend spending an hour of your time watching the presentation below, which
have posted complete with the lecture slides.
Marshall’s rule of thumb for spotting an advert disguised as a new story is the 4
Paragraph Rule: ‘If a company name appears around paragraph four, there’s a strong chance they paid for it’. This has stuck with ever since I first heard it and I find myself scanning for examples without even meaning to sometimes.
This Dagbladet article isn’t the first PR-driven story I’ve read in the papers since moving to Norway but it’s definitely one of the clearest examples of a Bullshit Surprising Survey (which Marshall talks about around the 33 mark minute of the video above). First Star Tour travel agents gets a mention as the instigators of the survey in the first paragraph, and then there’s a quote from a representative of i Ticket ‘Scandinavia's largest travel agency chain’. There is no
content to speak of; it is just a badly disguised advert for a couple of companies who are in the business of selling people holidays.
It's interesting that even Norwegian newspapers follow the format for PR-driven articles so closely, but it's not surprising as journalists and newspapers here are under the same pressures that lead to this situation as back in the UK. I tweeted
about it and found out that he’ll be giving a talk on the subject in Stockholm next August. It’s a depressing certainty that I’ll have many more examples of PR-driven ‘news’ articles in Nordic papers for him to talk about by then.