‘The press’ vs. ‘the me­dia’ … a bat­tle for the in­ter­net age

News­pa­pers shrink, presses van­ish but both terms live on

The Hamilton Spectator - - LOCAL - PAUL BERTON Paul Berton is edi­tor-in-chief of The Hamilton Spec­ta­tor and thes­pec.com. You can reach him at 905-526-3482 or pber­ton@thes­pec.com

There is no big­ger vis­ual cliché in this busi­ness than a fe­dora with a “press” card in the band.

Spec­ta­tor re­porter Matthew Van Don­gen is some­times spot­ted wear­ing one in the news­room, but I think it’s meant to be ironic.

I’m not sure any jour­nal­ist has ever ac­tu­ally worn such a getup in pub­lic on any day but Hal­loween.

In movies, Humphrey Bog­art, Cary Grant and Jimmy Ste­wart, to name just three, all played jour­nal­ists and they all wore fe­do­ras, but none, ap­par­ently, had a “press” card in the hat band.

You might think the term “press” would be equally as ar­chaic, anachro­nis­tic or just plain dif­fi­cult to find in an in­ter­net age of shrink­ing news­pa­pers and dis­ap­pear­ing print­ing presses, but in fact it per­sists.

For ex­am­ple, we of­ten hear about “press” con­fer­ences, even though they haven’t re­ally been that for decades, the bet­ter part of a cen­tury even.

Af­ter all, a grow­ing ma­jor­ity of jour­nal­ists now work for ra­dio, tele­vi­sion, or in­ter­net-only news agen­cies with no ac­tual print­ing press.

Even The Hamilton Spec­ta­tor, one of a shrink­ing group of news­pa­pers with print­ing presses still on site, is now more of a mul­ti­plat­form news or­ga­ni­za­tion than sim­ply a news­pa­per.

Nonethe­less, Canada’s prime min­is­ter still has a “press sec­re­tary.” So does the pres­i­dent of the United States, who also has a “prin­ci­pal deputy press sec­re­tary.” The pres­i­dent of France has a “chargée des re­la­tions de presse” or press of­fi­cer.

Then there is “press at­tache,” kind of like a press sec­re­tary or press of­fi­cer, but less im­por­tant per­haps. Or maybe more?

“Press” peo­ple, it turns out, are ev­ery­where, clearly out­num­ber­ing ac­tual presses. But there are signs of change. In the movie busi­ness, “press agent” has mostly been re­placed by “pub­li­cist,” which bet­ter re­flects what they do. The Hamilton Po­lice Ser­vice has a me­dia re­la­tions of­fi­cer; McMaster Univer­sity has me­dia re­la­tions man­agers. Still, old habits die hard. Some gov­ern­ments and cor­po­ra­tions reg­u­larly dis­trib­ute “press re­leases,” but I like to call them news re­leases or me­dia re­leases. I ex­pect TV jour­nal­ists do too.

Buz­zFeed, a strictly dig­i­tal and thor­oughly mod­ern news or­ga­ni­za­tion, has a sec­tion called Buz­zFeedPress, which comes com­plete with a cute lit­tle icon of the hat — yes! — de­scribed above. Maybe it’s also used iron­i­cally. Huff­in­g­ton Post, a dig­i­tal news agency, like­wise refers to mem­bers of “the press.”

Some col­leagues still use “press con­fer­ence” or sim­ply “presser” but our in­ter­nal spell-check­ing soft­ware will change it to news con­fer­ence.

But that’s not en­tirely ac­cu­rate ei­ther — the me­dia can mean more than just jour­nal­ists. Tele­vi­sion, the movies, ad­ver­tis­ing — it’s all “the me­dia.”

And it hardly mat­ters; when politi­cians com­plain about me­dia cov­er­age, they usu­ally stick to the term “the press.” Granted, the me­dia takes it on the chin an aw­ful lot, but it’s “the press” that is the go-to deroga­tory term.

That said, I pre­fer “press free­dom” to “me­dia free­dom” — one sounds noble and heroic, and the other sounds chaotic, like herd­ing cats, or, well, pa­parazzi.

Granted, the me­dia takes it on the chin an aw­ful lot, but it’s “the press” that is the go-to deroga­tory term.

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