Let me say right away that this is not an important story, far from it. It is also a story that illustrates a problem that you are probably already aware of. However, it is such a perfect example of that problem that I feel it is worth mentioning.
Formula One driver Fernando Alonso went to Baku in Azerbaijan and apparently had this to say…
“It’s a real honor for me to be the first F1 driver to visit this magnificent city. The welcome I have received from everyone since my arrival has been wonderful. I have been really impressed with everything I have seen today. I feel absolutely confident in saying that Baku City Circuit is going to be the most memorable circuit on the F1 calendar this year. Much like this beautiful city, it successfully manages to showcase its modernity with a lovely nod to the past. Indeed, the way the track stretches along the Old Town walls with the magnificent Flame Towers in the background is a clear example of this! On a technical level, I am excited to test my skills on such a challenging circuit, in particular along those tight, winding corners. I really can’t wait to race here this summer,” he said.
Now I am prepared to stick my neck out here. There is no way on earth those were the exact words of Fernando Alonso. The English in it is almost impossibly good for someone who is not a native speaker (Jozef Conrad excepted).
Don’t get me wrong, Alonso’s English is actually very good, but he wouldn’t in a million years produce sentences like “Much like this beautiful city, it successfully manages to showcase its modernity with a lovely nod to the past” . Non-native speakers of English don’t speak like that and, as you’ll have noticed, most native English speakers don’t talk that way either, unless they are writing a brochure.
It’s a press release, and I’m sure you all gathered that the second you read the quote.
Now it may be that Alonso said something similar and then someone tidied it up. It could also be that someone else wrote it and then Alonso, or someone in his employ, approved it. Or it could be that the F1 publicity people do this all the time, it is all part of the contract and he never even noticed it.
From wherever it was produced, it was then copied, translated and broadcast around the world with a thousand miniscule variations. Just google “Fernando Alonso Baku” or “Fernando Alonso Azerbaijan” to see them.
Why is any of this important? Well, apart from the facts about Azerbaijan and its record on human rights (described here) being hidden under a sport story, which is something that unfortunately happens all the time, it is a fact that this is now the modus operandi for most of the media.
Specifically, press releases are produced by government departments or large companies that can afford to have public relations departments and press liaison officers and so on. Those press releases are then copied and pasted and entered into articles. Sometimes the content produced by the press departments passes without comment, sometimes there may be some analysis of the rights and wrongs of the opinions within the press release, but usually no more than this.
Journalism courses now actually include rewriting press releases as a core skill.
The standard defence of this practice is that there have been cutbacks and journalists are under pressure to produce more content with less resources and therefore have to resort to this kind of behaviour.
So your Media Studies Friday question is this… Is it possible to reconcile what is written above, with the quote below?