As media professionals, both current and future, we are facing a huge shift. With all the convergence between advertising, public relations, and this new realm of social media, the differentiation between the fields if blurring. Add to that the recent trend of “infotainment” and you can find yourself seriously confused about your duties and responsibilities. The Miami Ad School has the right idea when they call themselves “the school of pop culture engineering.” The industry at large would do well to take a cue from that title. It nicely summarizes not only what advertising does, but also public relations and creative consulting firms. Writers for print and TV—and any medium, for that matter—fit this description as well. Whether journalists or novelists, it fits.
We—regardless of our capacity or specialization—have a cultural effect every time we open our mouths or sit down to write. We influence the popular culture in enormous, and often invisible ways. A PR campaign can be the difference between one president or another. A single tagline can inspire generations of athletes. A magazine cover can change (one subtlety at a time) perceptions of beauty. The right news story can cause a powerful man crumble. As the media, we have tremendous power, and calling ourselves “advertisers” or “public relations specialists” or “journalists” doesn’t do credit to the gravity of our work. We literally manipulate popular opinion by just doing our jobs every day. Whether we do it for good or for evil, passion or profit, we still do it. We are, in fact, engineering the popular culture.
That thought may make some uncomfortable. But why? A civil engineer manipulates traffic flow. A structural engineer manipulates steel and cement. Some use that for good and others do not. The engineer planning roads can do enormous good by creating a safe, environmentally responsible city that is both accessible to emergency vehicles and conducive to walking. That same engineer can, with ill intentions, do just as much bad if given a reason (or out of pure thoughtlessness or innocent lack of skill).
In media it is the same. We must strive to strive for ethics (the same ethics in advertising and in journalism) and integrity (the same integrity in our professional lives as in our personal lives) as well as the pursuit and refinement of skill. The pen is indeed mightier than the sword, and our proverbial pens must be not only sharp and skillfully used, but morally directed. Ethics are not just an issue of the media, nor are we the only ones who are responsible for the public well-being. We are the same as any other engineers. Perhaps we should acknowledge that when referring to our respective professions.