Monday, January 5, 2009

Journalism or Public Relations or something new?

I got into an interesting discussion over at The context is a conversation about the role of PR in a journalism school.

It started off with Mike Keliher saying,
After reading “Why journalism schools should get rid of PR,” I couldn’t help but respond. That post by Bob Conrad offers ten reasons why PR is better suited for a business school, and I’m going to attempt a point-by-point response from the opposite perspective. . . .read the rest here
After about 10 comments, Bill Sledzik said,
What exactly is the difference between journalism and PR? Journalists tell stories. PR people solve problems. Sometimes we tell stories as part of the package, but there’s a lot more to it. We counsel management and influence organizational policy as a means of building relationships. We listen to stakeholders and report back. We assess public opinion and forecast public behavior
Then I said,

But there is a long tradition of journalists solving problems. Some of the greatest newspapers were the crusading heroes to solve important public problems.

Perhaps one of the reasons that journalism has lost it’s way is that they drank the cool aid that they are the “objective” and just “tell stories.” Objective in this context often just means safe. Safe means often means “don’t upset someone because you will lose access or status.

I think going forward journalists may turn out to do PR for the public.

Consider your words with just a little search and replace:

We counsel community leaders and influence organizational policy as a means of building vibrant local communities. We listen to citizens and report their concerns. We assess public opinion and forecast public behavior, in the interest of trying to understand what kind of information they need to make better decisions.

So…I’m going with "PR for the Public" and replacing the whole sometimes very sanctimonious journalists.

It's a bit like graphic designer or commercial artist. The job description and the job are starting to part company in the google-mart economy.

It might be interesting to define exactly what is meant by "a journalist" and a "PR person" going forward.


  1. I love a seemingly unanswerable question. Nothing like it for extracting answers from passionate folks!

    On this particular issue, I keep coming back to this seemingly simple conclusion: Both a journalistic background and a wealth of business knowledge are important for PR people. Early on in their careers, though, PR people (traditional or social media-savvy) do a ton of work that's much closer to the world of journalism than the world of business management.

    To me, that indicates an necessary emphasis on starting with journalism and then developing the business sense.

  2. Mike-

    You say "Both a journalistic background and a wealth of business knowledge are important for PR people."

    I'm taking "journalist background" to mean how to find, craft and tell an interesting story." "Business"? I take that as "being able to systematically apply common sense in the service of earning money."

    Given these framings of the terms, wouldn't it make sense for a journalist to have the benefit of the same skill sets?

    So..what might you think of reframing the mission of journalism as something like the PR person for a Public. Not only to send out the community's a message. But also to find and craft the stories that will make that community smarter and safer. Much as a PR person has to create stories both for inside and outside the company.

    Just to clarify. My problem with the word journalism is that it is so often used as a cloak to aggrandize a writer who is just working for a living. Or a monopoly business that couldn't figure out how to get it right when the world changed.

    "Mom, apple pie and the fourth estate."

    It's a classic use of bs as described by Henry Frankfurt in his book, On Bullshit.

  3. Mike,

    I've been thinking about our discussion a bit.

    I think I figured out why I think PR is better than journalist. A journalist typically tells a story to a reader. A PR person has to know what stories the readers are telling each other and how to enter that discussion to keep the discussion going or change it's direction.

    It would be great if both journos and PR people saw themselves as teachers. I think PR people are much closer.

  4. "Given these framings of the terms, wouldn't it make sense for a journalist to have the benefit of the same skill sets?"

    It could be argued that a journalist should have little if any concern with making money. That's a publisher's job.

    And there's more to journalism than being a "cloak to aggrandize a writer"; journalism is, basically, writing and reporting.

  5. Sorry for the snarky comment about "aggrandizement." It's just that I've seen so much of that in the world.

    On the question of making money. The problem is that the publisher's don't know how to do there jobs at least for a while.

    The choice is either wait for them. (i think they'll figure it out pretty soon.) But until then there so many talented people who need to figure it out now.

  6. There is also the question of whether we'll ever again see the old days of making money as the publisher's job. In a google-mart economy, it may turn out that everyone's job is creating value. And some folks have to focus on monetizing the value created.

    But that's very different from a Newtonian "business model" that you start up, and watch the money pour out. That only works when you have a monopoly.

  7. So I just found this bit at

    It gets to what I'm trying to say about the "journalist" problem.

    Folks, here’s the real problem with this. The public sees it for what it is, an arrogant bunch of spoiled children who think they can get away with anything they want. The public — the people formerly known as the audience — are running from it, and yet we have one of its practitioners spouting this crap as if it’s some sort of high calling.