Managing the Media: The Financial Press Plays a Crucial Role in Shaping Business Ideas. If Corporate Leaders Wish to Influence Public Opinion, They Need to Learn the Art of Media Management

Article excerpt

The media plays an important role in shaping ideas and promoting particular versions of social reality. Journalists not only report on business phenomena, but they are also important actors in the legitimation or de-legitimation of management ideas, convincing and persuading readers to share their interpretations and conclusions. Journalists construct their texts in particular ways, through rhetorical strategies and techniques. Business leaders should thereby attempt to understand the textual strategies and rhetorical constructions through which journalists convey particular messages to their readers.

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Journalists work under continuous pressure for space and time, where choices have to be made. Limited space in media outlets means that individual texts have to be compressed. Time pressures, in turn, mean that media texts have to be produced rapidly. As the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu (1998) argues, journalists think in cliches. They think in "commonplaces" that are received generally. In other words, journalists write what they think their audience expects them to write. In this way, journalists often reconstruct commonly held views rather than act as opinion leaders on given phenomena. On the other hand, journalists are, at least occasionally, able to take part in constructing social reality in that they influence the interpretations of their audience. They do so by framing ideas, issues and events in persuasive new ways. This is not always intentional. The consequences of media coverage are often unintended.

We combined critical discourse analysis (Fairclough, 1997), systemic functional text analysis (Halliday, 1994; Martin, 2000) and the analysis of rhetorical structures (Mann and Thompson, 1988), in order to study the rhetorical practices of journalists. We studied in-depth a feature article on a recent cross-border merger in financial services. We chose this particular article as a typical example of media coverage of contemporary international industrial restructuring. This choice allowed us to illustrate the processes through which journalists first construct images of a specific business case (here, a cross-border merger) and second, put forward general claims around the management idea at hand (international industrial restructuring).

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Our focus is on international industrial restructuring as a timely but contested management idea, which needs to gain legitimacy within the media in order to become accepted. We identify five particularly salient rhetorical constructions in the studied article: rationalising, portraying future challenges, confrontation, personification and constructing inevitability. We elaborate on these findings by reflecting on earlier research. Our analysis is not - and it can never be - exhaustive.

Rationalising the discourse

Journalists typically buy into what we call "rationalistic discourse" (Vaara and Tienari, 2002). This means that journalists often base their texts on "facts", offered to them preferably in the form of numbers and figures. Business journalists are socialised into appreciating rationality and efficiency in companies' actions (Hellgren et al, 2002).

What is considered rational, however, is likely to shift over time. This is exemplified by different waves of mergers and acquisitions (M&As). In the sixties and seventies, M&As were typically justified by a need for corporations to diversify their business, while today's justifications are based on the need for focus (Jansen, 2002). What becomes taken as legitimate and natural is historically specific. It is interesting that this phenomenon usually passes unnoticed in individual media texts.

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Overall, it is tempting to argue that journalists search for clarity, and therefore make attempts to judge the rationality of the ideas, events and issues they cover. …