Sunday, December 7, 2008

Public Relations Invasion

Corporations view news generation and public affairs as two sides of the same marketing campaign - journalism and public relations are becoming inseparable and indistinguishable
Courtesy of

Graduating this semester, right now, finding the perfect job (in a perfectly screwed up economy) has become an all-consuming effort. While browsing job descriptions for public relations and marketing positions, the qualifications are eerily similar: “Bachelors degree in public relations/communications, journalism or related field,” as though journalism and public relations were just two sides of the same coin.

Central Michigan University offers a journalism major with public relations concentration priding itself as, “the only journalism program of its kind in Michigan with concentrations in advertising, news editorial, photojournalism, and public relations.” So does the Southeastern University, the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communication and the University of Arkansas Walter J. Lemke Department of Journalism. Tom Rushing, in his essay, ‘Controlling the Masses: From Religion to Bernaise’ laments: “The journalism schools in the U.S. are very few and most have switched over to public relations. Journalists will soon go the way of the dinosaur if something does not change this horrible trend.”

In an interview, David Meerman Scott, author of ‘The New Rules of Marketing and PR: How to use news releases, blogs, podcasts, viral marketing and online media to reach your buyers directly,’ explains that “the best marketing is journalism.” He advocates ‘brand journalism’ which involves “a company hiring journalists and creating really interesting marketing materials from the perspective and using the skills of someone trained in journalism.”

John Lloyd of the Financial Times offers a less jaundiced view than Rushing: “Public relations and journalism do not inhabit separate worlds; in particular, the relationship between them is not that of sleazy liars seeking to seduce seekers after truth. Truth does not reside on one side only…Journalism cannot understand itself unless it understands what public relations has done to it; how murky and grubby the relationship can become, with the connivance of both, and how the relationship might work to the benefit of citizens who should be told something like the truth. It is a self-regarding conceit of journalism that we are the dogs for whom public relations furnishes the lamp posts.”

There is a growing symbiosis between journalism and public relations. As much as we may hate it (and we do), journalists may not be able to treat public relations as the disregarded step-sister for much longer – she’s already dancing with the prince. To be able to spot public relations tactics that contaminate news, knowledge of those tactics is necessary. A greater understanding of PR, propaganda and Bernaise may be the road to more accurate journalism.


David Meerman Scott said...

Good analysis here. The best marketing is indeed brand journalism. Which would you rather consume - An advertisement? Or interesting information that helps solve a problem or answer a question?

M. Dery said...

I love the way the author of the previous comment seems to read your excoriation of the growing happy-bedfellow-ism of journalism and PR as an apology for it! Also, it's *Bernays*; Bernaise is the sauce. *grin* In any event, some historical background, explaining the social or economic forces that led PR and journalism to be joined at the hip, in many j-schools, would have been illuminating. As well, I wasn't clear on why you think those two discourses are becoming ever more incestuous. Fine to tell us that a cultural dynamic is at work; that's a useful insight. But better to tell us how and when and, crucially, *why* it came to be, in the first place. Historical memory is an essential tool for media critique.