Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Beware of Predators! It's Time for Journalists to Guard Their Frontlines

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Beware of Predators! It's Time for Journalists to Guard Their Frontlines

Article excerpt

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THEY WAIT. THEY LURK. THEY'RE READY TO STRIKE.

And as soon as you open up your inbox, the PR email messages come flooding in, or your voicemail is clogged with story pitches from PR reps. For years, the journalism and public relations industries have begrudgingly acknowledged one another, but they knew there was a line between the two professions. Now, it seems like that line has been crossed as PR tries to invade journalism.

The Pew Research Center recently released a report stating that the public relations field was outpacing journalism in numbers and in salary growth. According to the report, the salary gap between public relations specialists and news reporters has widened to almost $20,000 a year over the past decade, and PR specialists now outnumber reporters nearly five to one.

Newspapers are in a vulnerable state right now, operating with fewer resources and employees--and the PR reps know it. But we can't let them manipulate journalists with free, easy content, and we can't let them do the work of journalists, not when there is still an institution we need to protect.

The decline of trust

In a December 2014 debate, "Public Relations: The Master Now," John Lloyd, senior research fellow at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, Ed Williams, Edelman CEO and Trish Evans, senior lecturer in public relations at the University of Westminster, discussed if the Internet and social media has allowed the PR industry to dominate journalism.

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According to Lloyd, who is also a contributing editor to the Financial Times, the PR industry has been able to take hold of the digital revolution and make it work for them. Thanks to social media, business corporations have turned into media corporations.

He added trust in media is seen as very fragile right now. Businesses are taking advantage of that opportunity as they try to gain the public's trust through clever PR.

The PR industry is well aware of that fact, so they want to become the public's "trusted source." Just take a look at a recent PR News webinar titled "How to Build a Brand Newsroom from the Ground Up."

According to the course's description, "Our trainers will also demonstrate how to create and distribute polished content and how to become a trusted source of information for your customers and your industry. You need an operation that generates journalist-quality content in a timely fashion that is flexible and can stay on message. You need a newsroom."

Journalists reading that should certainly raise their brows. Here we have a PR webinar offering lessons on how to become a trusted source of information and how to turn an operation into a newsroom. We already have trusted sources of information (they're called journalists); we already have newsrooms (it's called the media), so the PR industry needs to get off our turf.

Not only are PR reps trying to take over the media's role of providing trusted information, they're digging their claws into the shrinking newsrooms.

In a recent Ragan PR Daily article, "What a Changing Media Landscape Means for Marketers and PR Pros," Rebecca Joyner, Metis Communications director of content services, wrote, "Staffs are smaller than ever, which means that the reporters and editors still on payroll at some publications are trying to do far more with far less. This is why so many journalists who once would have spoken to executives as sources for their own articles now ask PR contacts to provide those pieces as contributed content instead."

Joyner continued, "It's why we see things like: A reporter who asks us to suggest headlines that will help him break onto his publication's list of most-clicked stories; an editor who asks us to draft an article that will run under her byline; a group of trade publications that essentially disappears overnight; (and) erstwhile reporters resurfacing in corporate marketing departments. …

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