Dear Journalist,

Don't blame PR when journalism is falling short.

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.

Communication professionals, on the other hand, are doing just fine. The media logic is constantly 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 corporate communications is the problem and instead focus on more constructive solutions?

Let’s dive right into it:

Table of Contents

    The Unfair Advantage: More “Flacks” than “Hacks”

    According to journalist Mike Rosenberg, there are five PR professionals on 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, you know, communications.

    With a decreasing number of journalists combined with an increasing number of ways to communicate with inbound publics directly (yes, we do see other people), it makes sense for the PR industry to focus even less on traditional mass media.

    What If, One Day, News Pitches Would Suddenly Stop?

    Back 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 at 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 about whether or not 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 at all.

    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.

    Mattsson welcomed more pitches because that’s what it means to be a gatekeeper.

    The Elephant in the Newsroom: Too Few Journalists

    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, not too many companies prioritising professional communication and marketing.

    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, maybe news publishers should consider hiring more PR professionals, too?

    Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Prints/Instagram)

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    Jerry Silfwer
    Jerry Silfwerhttps://www.doctorspin.net/
    Jerry Silfwer, aka Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.
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