The Media-Spindustrial Complex

Rothenberg and Shafer

The Media-Spindustrial Complex

Rothenberg and Shafer

The Media-Spindustrial Complex
New books dissected over email.
Dec. 3 1998 4:24 PM

Rothenberg and Shafer

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Dear Jack,

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Thank you. But don't forget to remind me to tell you about what happened when the temporary Slate subscription you folks extended to me for the duration of this exchange expired in the middle of the week. Suffice to say that I'm now a paying subscriber. (Although, if this is your subscription gambit, at 52 "Book Clubs" a year, it's probably less efficient than direct mail, even.)

Look, I'm not going to let you off the hook. I still want to know what you think, from the inside, about Microsoft's corporate image issues--and about the lingering after-effects of the coincidental lineage of journalism and PR.

But let me take it a step further by (ham-handedly) linking the two subjects together in a question: How, if at all, will convergence influence corporate imagery and image making? I, for one, think it actually makes image maintenance more difficult. I know this sounds almost defiantly contrarian, but lemme see if I can make sense of it.

The "blurring line" between advertising and editorial on the Web has been pretty well documented, most recently in a front-page piece earlier this week in the Wall Street Journal. Now, I don't really believe that this problem (if, indeed, it is a problem) is any worse in new media than in conventional media. But I take it as a given that the development of new media and marketing vehicles puts pressure on all media, conventional and new, to protect their advertising base, thus crumbling the vaunted "Chinese wall" that once existed between editorial and advertising. A recent example: the disclosure that Time magazine will publish an issue entirely devoted to advances in medicine; that the issue will be sponsored solely by Pfizer; and that the editor in charge of the issue, as one of his early official duties, met with Pfizer executives--decisions, Time informs us, which have nothing whatsoever to do with advertising.

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Don't you think the public--or, at least, the public that exists near the top of what Jim Fallows called "the hierarchy of information and attitudes"--can smell the stench? Pfizer's goal, obviously, is to link its image in the public mind to the Wonderful World of Life-Saving Science by borrowing Time's environmental credibility. But don't you think that readers, paging through Glorifying Story after Glorifying Story and ad after ad, will intuit the strategy--to counteract all the negative publicity about skyrocketing medical costs and the complicity of drug companies therein--and think less of both Time and Pfizer, ultimately?

I realize this doesn't apply to new media directly, but to me, the efforts of a growing Media-Spindustrial Complex seem counterproductive: the more spin, the less belief.Or am I, in the end, just another garden-variety manic-depressive?

Help me out in this Jack. Having solved my computer-with-feet problem, you can, I'm sure heal all my wounds.

Best,
r2

P.S. I didn't read the Slate subscriber agreement before I clicked on it. Did I just give Microsoft direct access to my Fidelity account?

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Randall Rothenberg is New York editor of
Wired magazineand the author of Where the Suckers Moon: An Advertising Story. Jack Shafer is Slate's deputy editor. This week they discuss Creating the Corporate Soul: The Rise of Public Relations and Corporate Imagery in American Big Business, by Roland Marchand (University of California Press; 470 pages; $39.95).