Public Relations vs Journalism

So close, yet so far apart.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer


Public rela­tions vs journ­al­ism — how does it work?

Public rela­tions and journ­al­ism are closely related, yet so far apart.

How does this rela­tion­ship work?

Here we go:

Public Relations vs Journalism

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To spin or not to spin. (Photo: Jerry Silfwer)
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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.

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Why Journalists Don’t Like PR (Sometimes)

Journalists have plenty of reas­ons to dis­like PR professionals:

  • PR pro­fes­sion­als have the ter­rible habit of spam­ming journ­al­ists with irrel­ev­ant press releases. (This is some­times referred to as “spray and pray.”)
  • PR pro­fes­sion­als some­times con­tact journ­al­ists with weak and irrel­ev­ant story ideas. Not all PR pro­fes­sion­als do this, but enough to give stressed journ­al­ists that impression.
  • PR pro­fes­sion­als out­num­ber journ­al­ists. While journ­al­ists pro­duce news all day, PR pro­fes­sion­als don’t usu­ally con­tact journ­al­ists all day, but enough con­tacts are being made to give stressed journ­al­ists that impression.
  • PR pro­fes­sion­als typ­ic­ally pitch stor­ies with a pos­it­ive spin for the organ­isa­tion they rep­res­ent, but journ­al­ists are hard­wired to seek stor­ies based on conflict.
  • PR pro­fes­sion­als might try to be as lovely and accom­mod­at­ing as pos­sible, but enough repe­ti­tion for the journ­al­ists can res­ult in an air of tele­market­ing or spam.
  • PR pro­fes­sion­als don’t always like pitch­ing journ­al­ists, either. This is because media rela­tions are often del­eg­ated to less seni­or pro­fes­sion­als. And journ­al­ists are trained to detect inexperience.
  • Most import­antly, journ­al­ists are sup­posed to be scep­tic­al. They’re sup­posed to be crit­ic­al and weary.

Why Journalists Seek PR Jobs

Journalism is a harsh industry. The digit­al-first paradigm shift has hit the news media hard. In many mar­kets, schools out­put a sur­plus of journ­al­ism stu­dents, but few good pub­lic rela­tions jobs are around, so the com­pet­i­tion is often fierce.

The pay isn’t great, the work is stress­ful, there are often lots of intern­al polit­ics to nav­ig­ate, and the hours typ­ic­ally aren’t great. Many journ­al­ists must hop between tem­por­ary assign­ments for years before land­ing a reas­on­ably safe position.

Despite journ­al­ists teas­ing each oth­er about con­vert­ing to the “dark side,” many journ­al­ists switch. I’ve been told this often is a per­man­ent choice since news organ­isa­tions rarely hire pub­lic rela­tions pro­fes­sion­als as journalists.

Journalists often ask me for advice: Should they switch to PR?

I often say no.
Here’s why:

When Journalists Move to Public Relations

Many journ­al­ists have mis­lead­ing pre­con­cep­tions of what the PR industry is about. While this is per­fectly under­stand­able, it does­n’t change the fact that journ­al­ists often find PR work deeply disappointing.

Journalists typ­ic­ally know little about cor­por­ate com­mu­nic­a­tion in vari­ous forms. And it’s a far cry from what they once signed up for when they pur­sued a career in journalism.

The out­come is, there­fore, that ex-journ­al­ists are often tasked with full-time media rela­tions along­side more juni­or PR pro­fes­sion­als. But while their PR col­leagues advance, they’re stuck with full-time media rela­tions. Forever. 

Journalists typ­ic­ally expect media rela­tions, and if that were what all PR pro­fes­sion­als did every day, maybe that would’ve been easi­er to stom­ach. Or maybe not.

Love or hate it; media rela­tions isn’t about serving the pub­lic interest. The best media rela­tions spe­cial­ists are salespeople at heart. And spend­ing your day selling PR stor­ies to former industry col­leagues can be rough for a trained journalist.

Same Same but Different

So, journ­al­ists and PR pro­fes­sion­als share many skill sets. They’re both oper­at­ing with­in the media industry. They’re both fas­cin­ated by the news. There are dead­lines, stress, and lots of writ­ing.

But make no mis­take about it: The work is entirely different.

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Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

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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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