Journalism is a variety of public relations

The idea that public relations is a separate domain from journalism is a dogma of journalism.

A diagram showing public relations as the larger set which includes the category of journalism; a second diagram showing how all humans are animals.

Journalists complain about the rise and impact of public relations. It’s the “dark side”. Public relations (PR) “exerts a pressure” on journalism. It has a “distorting influence”. Journalists find themselves “at odds” with PR pros and “resist flacks”.

This is the story told by journalists about PR and it positions public relations as outside of journalism; as separate; as other.

A diagram of the dominant view of journalism showing public relations and journalism in separate spheres.

In this story, which has become the paradigm, journalism and PR stand apart from each other. They are different spheres.

But I have an alternate view. On my view, public relations is the larger category and it subsumes journalism.1

Journalism is a kind of PR in the same way that humans are a kind of animal. We’re a special animal to be sure. We make vinal recordings, build transmissions, and devise ways to leave the Earth from time to time. But we’re still animals.

Diagram showing that all journalism is PR, but not all PR is journalism.

Many people hold the view that humans aren’t animals. But they’re wrong.

And many journalists think they don’t do public relations.

But they’re wrong.2

Footnotes

  1. All journalist are PR pros, but not all PR pros are journalists.
  2. I won’t make all the arguments here. But consider, first, just how many shared skills PR folks and journalists have: story telling, communications finesse, ability to develop assets and networks, assertiveness, charm, and more. Second, consider how many shared qualities PR and journalism products have: relevance, clarity, influence, to name a few. Third, consider that all journalism, even bad journalism and journalism that falls beneath the standard for journalism, has a potent PR impact. Fourth, consider that good journalism and excellent journalism also has a potent PR impact. Fifth, consider how often high quality “PR” actually seems more journalistic than the news: I’m thinking here of the occasional press release by researchers or organizations where the press release has more integrity and nuance than the “news” reports that follow.

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