Spin is a media-euphemism for deliberate manipulation of the media. Today, this is mainly done through the use of spin doctors (I will not be looking at how spin is introduced in this write-up, this write-up can be best read in connection with spin doctor, as that writeup will include techniques etc)

What exactly is spin?

Several types of spin exist, and everyone who tries to influence the media use them. PoliticiansPR-consultants are infamous for using spin (see Jo Moore), but in one way or another – everybody who have a particular cause or product to promote will use spin to get their news across.

Spin, in other words, is a particularly sneaky way of advertising, and can be one of two things:

1) Publishing news in a way that is beneficial for an organisation.

If a political party would try to break the news to the people that they are cutting the police force by half, they would hardly send out a press brief with that exact text. Rather, they would probably go on a massive rant on why their politics have been so successful in fighting crime that they have deemed it less necessary to keep full police force police on the streets. After having broken the main news, they are likely to include a few passages on how they have increased spending on health services and roads.

In other words, the political party is in this case the primary source of the news; They will be the only source of the news facts, and the news would be biased (is there really less crime?), buried (why did they include the part about the health service?) and toned down (they were going to cut half of the police force – but did they say that?).

2) Manipulating news to their benefit

Recently, a major abduction case shook the UK; Jessica and Holly were kidnapped from their homes and killed. There was a massive search for the two kids, during which many parties became part of the media. Among others, the police and the support groups for parents with abducted children. During this time, politicians released press releases that promised more money to the police to prevent this from happening again, the police released press releases saying how they needed more money, and the support groups released press releases saying how horrible this all was, and how the politicians didn’t do anything the last time.

This illustrates how current issues will invariably be used to the benefit of whoever sees the opportunity. Note that all these press releases (with widely different messages) are based on the same facts - the abduction of Jessica and Holly - and again illustrates how the media is one of the most powerful institutions in our society today.

Why spin can work

The way the media works, is that a journalist goes to work, often without knowing what to write about. The international and national news agencies might be of help. Another thing that gets read is the press releases from various organisations. When you are part of a large newspaper (say, the NYT), you’ll get a million of these releases every year.

These press releases are more often than not drenched with spin. Why? Because someone writes these press releases, either because they have something they want the world to know, or they will have something they have to inform about. (the latter is often the case in major economical changes in a business)

In today’s tight news world (timewise, moneywise, and otherwise), newspapers will often have to resort to using press releases to make news. The problem is that if the budget and time is tight enough, opposing views of a press release might not be published in a newspaper; The journalist will re-write a press release into something newsworthy, but will only use the press release (and take a few phone calls to get some more quotes), and the spin will have been included.

Further reading