From the moment I embarked on my Magazine Journalism degree, back in 2008, I was very aware of the animosity, which exists between PR practitioners and journalists. Today, as an aspiring PR practitioner I have been exposed to the same hostility but from the opposing viewpoint. It immediately made me question why and look at a relationship, which is plagued with misconceptions.
From my understanding Journalists and PR practitioners have always had a precarious relationship, nuanced by a mutual dependency. Often described as purely functional, their relationship has undoubtedly changed in response to new media technologies – signalling an inevitable shift in power. Prior to the birth of new media platforms, PR professionals would send a press release to a journalist who could then cherry pick the editorial they wished to use based on whether or not it was newsworthy – notably this traditional role has changed. Traditional forms of communication such as newspapers etc. have been overtaken by a new media online environment, which has impacted their relationship.
This new media environment has undermined theories of press ownership and the traditional role of the media being the gatekeeper. PR practitioners now have lots of new tools in their tool box which allows them to communicate effectively with their target audiences. Of course, their relationship changes depending on what field of the industry they are working in. In fact it could be said that PR Practitioners are still heavily reliant on journalists. With their ability to produce credible press, reaching mass audiences, gaining coverage in mainstream publications is still extremely enviable. Journalists still have the power – power to press delete or not take their call.
But what causes this animosity? Personally I think that it is due to misguided perceptions and social stereotypes. For example, situations such as PR practitioners pitching material, which has no appeal to the publication’s target audience, frustrates the journalist. Poorly written press releases and bad experiences can also effect their relationship.
PR is about building credible reputations and that means protecting your own reputation as a brand. I have heard on so many occasions that ironically PR practitioners are the worst at raising awareness and promoting their own profiles. I honestly think that this is true. It is important to research the publication before targeting it directly, this is essential as it prevents wasting the journalists time and vice versa.
One of the downfalls of social media is that it discourages PR practitioners and journalists from interacting with each face to face or over the phone. Before new media technologies, journalists and PR practitioners would spend time forging influential relationships and understanding the style and format of different publications. Journalists would go out into the street and source stories, speak to people in the field and stay in contact with practitioners via telephone. Today, both sides rely heavily on sending each other emails that are sometimes not relevant to the publication or style of the media outlet.
Reporters are often inundated with hundreds of irrelevant emails, phone calls and press releases from PR trying to get their story into the media.
However at the same time, we must remember that social media has allowed journalists and PR practitioners to become closer. Both industries are able to access and target each other using social media for content, sources, ideas and information Online profiles and social media pages allow both sides to carefully select potential sources and coverage opportunities, as they are able to directly target the most effective platform, publication or print media for their message.
For me it is about gaining a mutual respect, respecting the fact that both industries have important roles to play.
The media will continue to evolve and no matter how much social media tools change this relationship – journalists and PR practitioners will always need to work together. An article in Pr Week summed the situation perfectly. “Weak newspapers means social media, PR specialists will have a stronger hand. But without a credible press, PR is deprived of a key comms platform that still delivers a mass audience in an era when media are disintegrating.” (PR week February 8)
#Upfordebate has social media changed the relationship between PR practitioners and journalists?