Journalists Must Admit Corporate PR Has a Role in Media Landscape ; MEDIA ANALYSIS

By Greenslade, Roy | The Evening Standard (London, England), April 16, 2008 | Go to article overview
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Journalists Must Admit Corporate PR Has a Role in Media Landscape ; MEDIA ANALYSIS


Greenslade, Roy, The Evening Standard (London, England)


WE JOURNALISTS generally see ourselves as superior to PRs. In our view, we are seekers after truth and they are unhelpful gatekeepers to the truth. We are convinced that we hold the moral high ground while PRs scramble around in the muddy foothills waving at us in order to gain our attention and occasionally, with due condescension, we grant them a hearing.

The caricature continues. We have integrity, they do not. We serve the public, they fool the public. We are transparent, they are covert. Though they strive to set the news agenda, we are clever enough to see through their stratagems and expose them as spinners and sinners.

PRs, needless to say, see it all very differently, especially over the claim to transparency. They are upfront. Everyone knows who they work for be it government, business, institution, charity or individual so their agenda is obvious. But journalists who proclaim veracity as their watchword conceal their own agendas behind a fake claim to objectivity.

It was a point rammed home last week by Lord (Tim) Bell, the veteran PR who runs Chime Communications, in a Media Standards Trust debate at Westminster University in which he was arguing against the motion, "The growth of PR is threatening the integrity of the press". What press integrity, he asked? It proved an uphill battle after that, as I can testify because I was seconding the motion proposed by investigative journalist Nick Davies, author of the challenging book, Flat Earth News, in which he accuses newspapers of tamely accepting stories emanating from public relations initiatives.

In retrospect, the hole in our argument which we lost by an embarrassing margin of almost three to one was rather obvious. PR can hardly be blamed for taking advantage of journalists who are happy to be spoon-fed stories. By coincidence, I was then sent a illuminating piece of evidence that confirms just how successful PR organisations have become at placing their material in the media.

Metrica, a media analysis and evaluation company that claims to provide data "which adds value at every stage of the PR lifecycle", has produced a report based on its clients' experiences in 2007 that spotlights the prevalence of PRs' work.

It reveals that, despite an increasingly fractured media landscape, PR organisations are managing to get their messages across very well indeed. For example, on average every month, those organisations reached 35% of Britain's adult population 11 times. That is some hit rate, and the repetition is very important indeed.

When you also realise that only 8% of the coverage was classified as unfavourable, it is clear that the PR industry for that is what it is is flourishing.

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