Dear Journalist,

Don't blame PR when journalism is falling short.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

Dear journ­al­ist,

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. 

PR pro­fes­sion­als, on the oth­er hand, are doing bet­ter. The media logic is evolving, and so are we. Change is dif­fi­cult, but soci­ety needs more pro­fes­sion­al com­mu­nic­a­tion, not less.

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.

The Stakeholder Model - Doctor Spin - The PR Blog
The stake­hold­er mod­el in pub­lic relations.
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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​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​t​a​k​e​h​o​l​d​e​r​_​(​c​o​r​p​o​r​ate)

The PR Stakeholder Model

  • Corporate Communications = External and intern­al pub­lics, busi­ness journ­al­ists, reg­u­lat­ory insti­tu­tions, part­ners, sup­pli­ers, vendors, etc.
  • Investor Relations (IR) = Shareholders, fin­an­cial mar­kets, mar­ket ana­lysts, fin­an­cial insti­tu­tions, trade journ­al­ists etc.
  • Media Relations = Journalists, edit­ors, influ­en­cers, etc.
  • Digital PR = Inbound web traffic, brand com­munit­ies, sub­scribers, fans, fol­low­ers, influ­en­cers, social net­works, etc.
  • Public Affairs (PA) = Voters, polit­ic­al journ­al­ists, polit­ic­al ana­lysts, colum­nists, interest groups, etc.
  • Lobbying = Politicians, legis­lat­ors, gov­ern­ment offi­cials, com­mit­tees, influ­en­cers, etc.
  • Internal Communications = Coworkers, poten­tial recruits, etc.
  • Crisis Communications = Crisis vic­tims, wor­ried pub­lics, the gen­er­al pub­lic, cowork­ers, journ­al­ists, influ­en­cers, cus­tom­ers, share­hold­ers, etc.
  • Marketing PR = Potential cus­tom­ers, exist­ing cus­tom­ers, trade journ­al­ists, mem­bers, affil­i­ates, etc.
  • Industry PR (B2B) = B2B cli­ents, B2B pro­spects, trade journ­al­ists, trade organ­isa­tions, niche influ­en­cers, etc.

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.

Not more.

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.

For our thes­is, my study part­ner Markus Christiansson and I wanted to dive deep­er into the rela­tion­ship between journ­al­ists and PR pro­fes­sion­als.

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.

Please sup­port my PR blog by shar­ing it with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

Bonus Resource: The Difference Between Journalism and PR

Spinning Top on Table
To spin or not to spin. (Photo: Jerry Silfwer)
Spin Academy | Online PR Course

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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1 Stakeholder (cor­por­ate). (2023, October 27). In Wikipedia. https://​en​.wiki​pe​dia​.org/​w​i​k​i​/​S​t​a​k​e​h​o​l​d​e​r​_​(​c​o​r​p​o​r​ate)
2 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.
3 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/​1​0​.​1​0​1​6​/​J​.​P​U​B​R​E​V​.​2​0​1​2​.​0​6​.​011
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has


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