There is no question that the atttitude of consumers and the broader community about companies, governments and organisations can be significantly impacted by reporting in the news media. But there is also a danger of over-emphasising the impact journalists have in the court of public opinion.
There are two factors to consider here. The first is the fact that the percentage of people who actually read, hear or take notice of coverage in the media may be a lot smaller than you think.
For example, I’ve observed clients who will whip themselves into a frenzy about negative comments on a talk back radio show. On the basis of that coverage they may be considering taking dramatic action. It is times like this that it is worth considering the reality that even though radio stations can command big audiences, as a percentage of the total population the impact might be relativey small. The fact is that news based AM stations in many capital cities are only being listened to by about 5-10% of the population at any one time. I am not saying that the coverage should be ignored, but I do think it helps to consider that before adopting a massive change.
Second, just because the media reports something, doesn’t mean the audience believes it. Australians are cynical about journalists and media coverage. They’re not stupid. They know that the facts are often stretched to fit the story. ie, just because it is reported, doesn't mean the public believes it to be true.
As Seth Godin points out, the majority of people have an established “world view” - human beings tend to be far quicker to adopt information that conforms with what they already believe. In other words, if they already think your company stinks, a media report will just confirm what they already believe; on the other hand, if they like you, they’ll often just brush off negative coverage.
Media relations matters, but it needs to be applied with perspective and intelligence.
Many years ago when I was working as a news producer in a TV newsroom I can remember getting home from work on a day when we had been inundated with big stories. My wife, could not have cared less what was happening in the wider world. Her focus, rightly, was on our two children. Often news agendas dominate the thinking of people who focus on them...while the rest of the world just gets on with life. Forget the headlines, what are we having for dinner tonight?