Journalism is partially predicated on confrontation and divisiveness. In one word: conflict. The discipline, by default, tends to believe conflict is needed in the majority of stories told. It’s what sells ‘papers’ (or so some people think), what generates eyeballs and, these days, instigates the viral dimension.
In many cases I am sure this is true, as old school and tiresome as it sounds to a PR professional like myself. The question, however, is whether a professional schooled in this ‘half glass empty’ attitude can cut it in PR, which by default has a ‘half glass full’ mindset.
Listening to, empathising with and understanding the perspectives of others is a fundamentally important part of public relations. Then there comes negotiation, potentially applied to seek stakeholder and organisational change.
My presumption is that journalists are not trained as fully in these skills as PR practitioners and, just as importantly, they are not educated as to the relevance and importance of these approaches.
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Of course, anyone moving into a new field can learn these skills, but here is another presumption/observation I’ll challenge anyone to refute: most journalists do not study PR at university after they change professions.
A result of this is they will probably not understand the strategic power and potential of public relations to a sufficiently sophisticated degree. This is partially because on the job learning is simply not capable of replicating the intellectually demanding and rigorous environment of an excellent masters course in this or any field.
Journalism is a poor introduction to achieve organisational change
Organisational evolution is as important to PR as stakeholder behavioural change. Journalists can’t be expected to realise this or understand the strategic depth of PR and its capability of helping achieve this (to start with, anyway).
It takes education and practice to achieve this capability. I would not like to see PR become focused ONLY on stakeholder-focused awareness raising and behavioural change, at the expense of achieving organisation-stakeholder mutually beneficial outcomes, so (ex-)journalists will be dragging the PR chain in these latter aspects.
The big bonus of journos moving into PR
Clearly, the advanced capability of journalists to write and/or to tell a story in a compelling manner is their USP. And it’s one PR can absolutely benefit from.
Additionally, journalists are trained to not accept the status quo but, rather, to challenge orthodoxies and dig deeper to ascertain the crux of the issue.
And they frequently have plenty of experience in dealing with a range of people, from CEOs and politicians to the broader community. Similarly, many have reported on a diverse array of issues so have a strong understanding of society and, in some cases, specific industries.
And of course, due to their many media contacts, they will have an advantage in placing stories in the media.
All of these traits are highly valued in PR.
Sales skills needed by agency PR professionals
For anyone, journalists included, moving into a PR agency at a senior level, by default, involves the procuring of new business.
So, selling skills are highly valued. Journalists, not normally trained in this aspect, would do well to bear this in mind, no matter how the issue is positioned in the PR agency’s recruitment pitch. Not that you find sales as part of any PR undergrad or masters course I’m aware of, either – which is a whole other story!
With its greater remuneration and diversity of tactical dimensions, not to mention the societal benefit effective implementation of PR can have, I can certainly understand the allure of the discipline to those working in the media. All of us, however, should consider the ramifications of the two fields seemingly moving closer and closer together.
Collaboration between the media and PR is increasing by the minute, with the primary driver being the economics of contemporary media. Which in turn is being massively influenced by the internet and its star recruit, social media.
What do you think the impact journalists moving into PR is having, and will have, on the discipline? What are the positive outcomes for both professions? Can you give examples? Will the increase of trained journos in PR create opportunities for all parties, or lead to a diminishment in the value of public relations to business and undermine utilisation of its strategic heft?
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