Traditional journalism is going to hell in a handbasket.
The fall of journalism is a serious matter, of course. Journalism is the Fourth Estate, and we all depend on the freedom of the press and its willingness to tell meaningful stories.
So, dear journalist, let me pose this somewhat naïve question:
Is there a way for journalism to let go of the idea that PR is the problem and explore more constructive solutions?
Let’s dive right into it:
More “Flacks” than “Hacks”
According to journalist Mike Rosenberg, there are five PR professionals for every news reporter in the US. Fifteen years ago, we had two “flacks” on every “hack”. Rosenberg portrays an army of “Pitchmen”, sinister corporate mercenaries, attacking journalists from every direction.
And I agree that we, the PR professionals, should improve and get better at media relations in general:
However, a reasonable assumption would be that an average PR professional spends less than 5% of their working hours working towards journalists.
The rest of the time is spent on, well, communications. Communications with various stakeholders, to be more precise.
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The Stakeholders in Public Relations
In public relations (PR), we often discuss stakeholders. And our PR specialisations are named based on which PR stakeholder group we’re responsible for managing.
“In a corporation, a stakeholder is a member of ‘groups without whose support the organisation would cease to exist’, as defined in the first usage of the word in a 1963 internal memorandum at the Stanford Research Institute. The theory was later developed and championed by R. Edward Freeman in the 1980s. Since then it has gained wide acceptance in business practice and in theorising relating to strategic management, corporate governance, business purpose and corporate social responsibility (CSR).”
Source: Wikipedia 1Stakeholder (corporate). (2023, October 27). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakeholder_(corporate)
The PR Stakeholder Model
Developing and maintaining relationships with various stakeholders is a significant challenge for PR professionals since their information needs are typically very different. 2A widespread misconception is that the PR function only deals with journalists (Media Relations) and product promotion (Marketing PR). However, such work represents only a tiny fraction of all the … Continue reading
“Public relations distinguishes itself from marketing by focusing on the stakeholder-organization relationship, which comprises mutual orientation around a common interest point and a multiplicity of stakes.”
Source: Public Relations Review 3Smith, B. (2012). Public relations identity and the stakeholder – organization relationship: A revised theoretical position for public relations scholarship. Public Relations Review, 38, 838 – 845. … Continue reading
Learn more: Stakeholders in Public Relations
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Media relations is only one focus area of several. The typical PR generalist will devote more time to corporate, internal, and inbound communications.
With a decreasing number of journalists combined with an increasing number of ways to communicate with the inbound publics directly (yes, we do see other people), it makes sense for the PR industry to focus even less on traditional mass media.
It’s a Privilege, Not a Curse
In 2000 – 2003, when I was studying public relations at Mid Sweden University, I interviewed the Editor-in-Chief for one of Sweden’s largest evening newspapers — Thomas Mattsson, Expressen.
When asked whether Mattson ever felt irritated about the sheer volume of useless press releases and lousy PR pitches, he told us that he wasn’t bothered by this.
For Mattson, people needed to pitch their stories, good or bad, to Expressen. He said he would be more worried if people, including PR professionals, didn’t pitch Expressen.
The editor-in-chief Thomas Mattsson welcomed PR pitches because being a gatekeeper is an essential privilege of being a journalist.
The Elephant in the Newsroom
I can understand resentment coming from journalists who are under the impression that professional communicators are responsible for making matters worse:
Corporate communicators make mistakes every day. However, it’s a stretch to claim fewer mistakes would be made if all PR professionals decided to quit their jobs tomorrow.
The real problem is that there are too few journalists, and not that more organisations prioritise better communication.
Almost all organisations today, public or private, must communicate professionally with both internal and external stakeholders.
The ratio of professional PR professionals versus journalists could be twenty to one, just as long as enough journalists to report the news.
Dear journalist, perhaps news publishers should even consider hiring more PR professionals.
Bonus Resource: The Difference Between Journalism and PR
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Public Relations vs Journalism
PR professionals and journalists share many practical skill sets. Still, public relations and journalism are fundamentally different:
Public Relations is the effort to subjectively advocate agendas on special interests’ behalf.
A fundamental critique against public relations is that advocacy is an affluent privilege that manipulates the truth.
Journalism is the effort to objectively report the news on the public interest’s behalf.
A fundamental critique against journalism is that objectivity is unrealistic and the public interest heterogeneous.
But even if both public relations and journalism fail to live up to their ideal states at all times, both practices play vital roles in upholding a balanced and stable democracy.
Learn more: Public Relations vs Journalism
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|Stakeholder (corporate). (2023, October 27). In Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stakeholder_(corporate)
|A widespread misconception is that the PR function only deals with journalists (Media Relations) and product promotion (Marketing PR). However, such work represents only a tiny fraction of all the stakeholder relationships PR professionals must manage daily.
|Smith, B. (2012). Public relations identity and the stakeholder – organization relationship: A revised theoretical position for public relations scholarship. Public Relations Review, 38, 838 – 845. https://doi.org/10.1016/J.PUBREV.2012.06.011