Photo C/O McMaster Daily News
Like most post-secondary institutions, McMaster University has a communications and public affairs office which releases press statements and other similar material in order to inform their students and faculty of the affairs of the institution. While there is nothing inherently wrong with such a set-up, why is this office’s main website called McMaster Daily News?
McMaster Daily News presents itself as a news outlet. Their site publishes articles, press releases and letters from the McMaster administration – all of which bolster McMaster’s reputation. These posts are then circulated on social media and, for all intents and purposes, appear identical to news stories.
This is of utmost concern. Masquerading a public relations site as a news outlet rather than being upfront about its purpose allows the university to spin a narrative in their favour.
It is no secret that people largely get their news from social media, particularly through skimming headlines and summaries, with the expectation that news outlets are conscientiously addressing that constraint. However, if someone were to read McMaster Daily News for their insights about the McMaster community, they would receive a biased picture.
Take, for instance, a recent post Daily News made about Maclean’s university rankings. The article headline and description on Twitter implied that McMaster had achieved the fourth overall rank in Canada for top university. In reality, this ranking only pertained to the top medical and doctoral schools in the country.
While still an impressive statistic, the Maclean’s guide to universities is largely geared towards high school students selecting a school for their undergraduate career, making this headline and tweet very misleading. While it is technically true that McMaster did rank fourth in the country, ignoring which exact category allows room for error to the benefit of McMaster’s reputation.
Maclean’s ranks McMaster No.4 in Canada. MAC jumps two spots in annual national ranking thanks to high student satisfaction and research impacts https://t.co/luM1ViyFr8
— McMaster University (@McMasterU) 11 October 2018
It is, of course, to be expected that large businesses, including universities, have public relations offices to protect and increase their reputation. The issue is that branding such an office as an outlet for news without following basic journalist ethics allows the university to create news in their own image.
There is also the issue of accessing posts altogether. Daily News picks and chooses what is promoted on their main site. For example, there is no clear link to the press release McMaster published following the arrest of a man linked with three break-ins in Westdale, a series of incidents which heightened student fear. It seems that any time there is an important press release that addresses issues such as student safety, Daily News makes it near impossible to find.
The worst part about this is that it absolutely works. I worked as the News Editor for the Silhouette for two years and during that time, I had to explain to readers and contributors alike that what they read on the Daily News site is PR spin. Students trust Daily News to deliver accurate information about the goings-on of the university, but that was clearly never their goal.
It is remarkable that a university which prides itself for holding courses such as “Conspiracy Theories, Fake News and Critical Investigations” would so blatantly use social media to twist students’ understanding of their own school. To those reading this, remember that so long as the university is a business, it has a vested interest in maintaining its reputation and taking your money, so as you would with any other business, take every word you read from Daily News with a grain of salt.