PRs are not the cat chasing the mouse [journalist] for food or to be savage, the only reason they are chasing the mouse and the mouse is trying to escape is because both the cat and the mouse are morbidly obese and need to be moving more in order to lose weight so they are playing the chasing game to ultimately reach the same goal: publish content. How was that for a metaphor?
“[PR is] conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses.” – source
PR is not quality investigative journalism. Point blank. At its core PR is designed to put the most positive, glorifying and romanticizing ‘spin’ on anything done, sold or offered by the institution and/or individual represented – this is not to be confused with telling lies and spreading fake news (I wrote a post on this and you can see it here). Quality investigative journalism, keyword quality, is not about painting a picture per say, it is, however, concerned with portraying said organization and/or individual in a realistic light, good, bad or otherwise.
“Doing [PR] at its best, is journalistic, it has to be,” he adds, recalling how his time in Westminster was like working in a newsroom. “I have never really seen the sort of black-and-white distinction between journalism and communications, and it is very hard for one to exist without the other.” –source
With a little bit of time and access to the internet, anyone could come to a conclusion that journalism and PR over the years have overlapped in some areas and the two professions no longer have clear borders. It is no longer black and white. This, of course, makes a lot of sense as with technology evolving and information and news reaching your target audiences before it sometimes reaches the directors of a company, a communications strategy that is purely defensive no longer is effective. PR has surpassed the time when the PRs main role was to protect one’s public image by keeping them out of the press. An open relationship with the media as what serves PRs best during good times and certainly during a crisis, it would be daft to deny this. A PR professional with strong and established relationships with industry writer is the key to overcoming any sort of crisis. Que enters the ‘love/hate arrangement’ between PRs and journalist. As established before having close relationships to a journalist will serve a PR professional well because this then means that they have a guaranteed contact that will be able to deliver the message to audiences. However, this is where the differences lay in and when the journalist is reporting on the crisis situation their main concern is (or should be) delivering facts, news, updates etc. this further perpetuates that some of these facts may not help with the crisis at hand of salvaging a crumbling reputation. With this in mind often times PRs focus their communications on their social media channels and website, this while necessary not always is helpful especially when the public no longer places trust in these communication channels.
However, in all of this, there is a much bigger issue underlying. PRs are imitating the role of journalists and journalism as a profession to some extent has reached the point of ‘true enough’. A true enough piece is a piece of content that’s been acquired by the journalist via a PR agency/professional and this information has been sold to the said journalist that will not embarrass the journalist and/or diminish their reputation, however, is not ‘the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ but it is ‘true enough’. To some extent, this is alarming and concerning and I’d like to think it mainly exists due to the strain placed on journalists and the demand for free press. The truth is that as much as PRs don’t want to admit this and no matter how many Smug Journo tweets flood your timeline – PRs are dependent on journalist and journalist are dependent on PRs. Case closed. Yes, the journalist to PRs ratio is 1:4 and it’s concerning, and some may argue that PR is destroying quality journalism (that’s a topic for another day). Some PRs will even argue that the roles of PR and journalism have merged together – PRs are producing content identical in terms of style, tone, in-house copyediting style and due to the high pressure on journalist these bits of content then get published with very little to no editing. During my placement I witnessed this every day, some journalists and some publications were worse than others.
Bottom line is, we know, journos, you get annoyed at PRs that are shitty at their job just like PRs are annoyed with shitty journalists, but neither of the sides is going anywhere. After all, we need each other.