Journalists and public relations pros

Is there any group more self-righteous than reporters and editors? Particularly when comparing themselves to public relations professionals.

I was thinking about that this morning as I ran in a cold rain — again. Oh, well. I guess spring will be here soon. And what triggered this was a blog post I came across yesterday written by Ron Kaye, “A quiet revolution of the silenced majority…” Kaye is the former editor of the Los Angeles Daily News.

Kaye focuses on some important points ranging from the decline (collapse?) of the “watchdog” press to the growth of the Internet and the promise this has to reinvent news coverage. That’s a gross oversimplification of a very thoughtful post. And overall I agree with him. This is an important subject. Please take the time to read it.

But here’s what bugs me. It’s the view that journalism is “a noble calling” — and if that doesn’t work out for whatever reason, then an option is just to slither over to a public relations job and enjoy the good life while apparently checking your integrity and ethics at the office door.  (My comment in italic.) And up until recently, many went into journalism because they didn’t want to work in business. Now they’re discovering it is a business and well, oh, my. I digress as usual.

Here’s from Kaye’s post:

Some of us with an excess of passion also formed an underground. We pushed the rules of corporate journalism to the edges and took our chances. Sometimes we went too far, sometimes we succumbed to alcoholism, or gave up and joined the fraternity of public manipulators in the world of public relations experts, lobbyists and political staff.

The collapse of newspapers in particular and news media in general that’s now under way has robbed even the most diehard journalists I know of all illusion. The game is up. At my former paper, four great journalists have quit in just a few weeks — all for public relations where they will earn a much better living, have more fun and salve their wounds knowing there is life after your dream is over.

Soon, a friend said recently, there will be no journalists left for all the p.r. types to manipulate.

Ron, c’mon. Give us a break. Most public relations professionals are honest, ethical and hard-working. They contribute to an understanding of public issues. And if journalists are that easily manipulated by the PR people who don’t have a sense of dealing with the public and the news media honestly and ethically — then journalism is in bad shape. Maybe worse than most of us imagine.

We need a strong, independent press. We need reporters and editors to question those in government, business, education, etc. I get a sense — perhaps unfairly — when reading comments like yours that this isn’t happening all that much these days.  Too bad. This country sure doesn’t need journalistic cheerleaders who salute and shout, “mission accomplished.”

And I don’t think it is a bad thing for more journalists to take jobs in public relations. I just hope they do it for the right reason: be an advocate for your organization but do it in a way that is honest and ethical. I think everyone wins under those conditions.

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4 responses to “Journalists and public relations pros

  1. Shelley Prisco

    I think the ethical identity of public relations gets lost in the hustle of the business world and media. I never totally understood the rivalry between PR people and journalists. Why can’t they just work together to produce a good communication piece??? There again, it’s always about the idiots who are on ego trips. That’s what gets the most publicity. News is hardly good quality anymore. I think both fields need to look at their own respective weaknesses and try to rebuild the reputations instead of being childish and slinging mud at one another. After all, this isn’t recess with a bunch of kindergardners…right??? :p

  2. I agree. And I’ve always believed that when done right on both sides it is a mutually beneficial relationship. I understand that this isn’t the best of times for journalists. But the overall negative view of public relations expressed in Ron Kaye’s post just doesn’t make sense.

  3. PR generally has a bad reputation–not just with journalists — because people are being paid to present the perspective of a single entity. This isn’t to say that it’s inherently unethical, but when you’re paid by someone with a dog in a given fight, the inherent illusion of impartiality — which most journalists are rather attached to — is shattered. That’s not to say that all PR people just tow the party line, or that all journalists are impartial, but perceptions of both professions are generally built out of these notions.

  4. David,

    Thanks for your comment. The situation you describe — and that we’re talking about here — goes back years and years. And I’m sure that it is not going to change anytime soon. But I still believe that you can be an advocate for a single entity — and do it honestly and ethically.

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