The symbiotic relationship: PR practitioners and journalists

I’ve worked in PR for many years and I am not surprised by research which demonstrates the extent of newsrooms’ reliance on media releases [as summarised in this post by Steven Raeburn].

A good media release can contain most of the information that a news article requires, especially if it is a straightforward public announcement. I have trained as a journalist and of course I would prefer that all media releases are fact-checked and any resulting article offers an alternative point of view. At the same time, I understand that newsrooms are shrinking and, where a reliable source of media releases emerges from a trusted, reputable organisation, some media outlets will use media releases verbatim.

NewspaperI know that many PR practitioners carry out work which is immensely useful to journalists. This includes:

  • Rewriting poorly-written media releases which their clients have been poised to distribute
  • Advising clients that their media release is, in fact, not news or worth sending to the media
  • Advising clients that what they are saying is misleading and should not be shared in a media release (yes, it happens)
  • Helping journalists source spokespeople or ‘talent’ when they are approached to do so (and believe me, some of these can be very last-minute and quite obscure requests. Eg, “do you know of a 32 year old woman living in regional Australia who has started her own IT company?” )
  • Helping journalists dissect research, trends or statistics (often under tight deadlines)
  • Building a story idea with a journalist

Twenty years in the industry means that I can’t agree with Raeburn that “philosophically and morally” news and public relations “seem diametrically opposed”.

Professional PR practitioners are ethical, in fact our industry encourages us to be the conscience of our organisations.

This is something that is not well known (and I can hear laughter from newsrooms now) but look at any university’s PR curriculum, or the papers produced by PR professional associations around the world, and you will see ethics forms a fundamental subject of importance.

PR practitioners are in a unique position to not only be able to help their employers or clients communicate, but to question employers’ practices. “What would this look like if it was on the front page?” has morphed into “This is the not the right thing to do … this company needs to change its practices and I can help you map out the steps to get there”.

We advise clients on being honest and upfront as soon as possible when “things go wrong”. We advise clients to apologise and be accessible. But our recommendations aren’t always accepted and our advice is sometimes ignored in favour of advice from legal and political advisors – or even quashed by a nervous management.

Not all PR advisors have high ethical standards or professional pride – and in this, the PR industry isn’t alone. But by and large, long time PR practitioners can work with journalists in a symbiotic relationship, to ultimately produce stories they can be proud of and that the public needs to read.


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