Public relations and journalism are often thought of as being two sides of the same coin. The two professions coexist and collaborate with one another while sharing good several qualities that are essential for excelling in those fields. In Social Media: How To Engage, Share, and Connect Regina Luttrell said, “It is the job of public relations professionals to build strong, mutually respectful relationships with journalists” (p. 6).
Jobs in journalism continue to decline as the industry supports 33,000 full-time newsroom employees according to a Pew Research Center analysis, nearly 20,000 positions smaller than 20 years prior. In a 2013 study by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics for every $1 that a PR specialist makes, a reporter makes 65 cents. This translates to PR specialists earning a median annual income of $54, 940 compared with $35,600 for reporters. Many journalists are making the transition into the expanding and more lucrative field of public relations in what they consider to be “the greener pasture,” which raises a serious question in the industry: can journalists be good public relations practitioners?
The most notable skill that journalists and public relations practitioners share is their ability to write. Both professions require strong writing skills with proficiency in AP Style. One of the tasks that a public relations practitioner often undertakes in their career is writing news releases, which are similar to the news stories that journalists churn out for their newspaper every day.
PR practitioners often write pitch emails to promote a client’s story. Press releases are also sent to journalists to be published as a news article. More often than not a press release will be published in a newspaper as essentially free advertisement, which will reach a larger audience than solely through a client’s social media presence or paid advertisements.
While both journalists and PR practitioners work under grueling deadlines there is a different kind of pressure in both fields. For journalists they are required to cover an event and submit a finished article within hours of covering that event.
Old news isn’t news, so journalists focus on haste to beat competing newspapers and convert readership traffic to their respective websites. PR practitioners have changing deadlines that are entirely based on the clients that they work with. Journalists may have a faster deadline for their content, but PR practitioners are responsible for a much larger workload that may change at a moment’s notice.
Journalists are in charge of several responsibilities, which include:
- answering emails regularly
- pursuing stories
- coming up with story ideas
- conducting interviews
- recording video and shooting photos for their articles
- connecting with their readership via social media
- irregular work hours
- working under a tight deadline.
Those who work in public relations perform all of these tasks and are responsible for much more. In Luttrell’s book she references Rex Harlow’s Four Quadrants of Public Relations (p. 1), which is a basic and simple summary of the elements of PR. The four quadrants of PR that practitioners work in are the media, community, business and government sectors. Each element is interrelated and practitioners attempt to connect all four quadrants for better strategic implementation (p. 1). Practitioners meet with their clients to go over expectations and create a PR plan for that client. Content in a PR plan can include:
- time constraints
- media outreach
- target audience
- social media plans
- situation analysis
- key messages
- executive summary
On top of developing a comprehensive social media plan PR practitioners must also collaborate with marketing and advertising teams for a business. In Social Media: How To Engage, Share, and Connect Luttrell also makes the point that “the public relations department should drive social media strategies, aligning synergies between the three[marketing and advertising]” (p. 44).
Journalists work on a much quicker deadline to churn out stories as quickly as possible. On the other hand PR practitioners will create an intricate and highly detailed plan for their clients over a longer span of time. However, their job doesn’t end in creating the plan; they must also execute that plan and bring it to life for their client.
The biggest difference between journalists and PR practitioners is who they’re working for. One of the ethics that journalists strive to follow is to be unbiased and objective in their story-telling while working for the greater good of the public.
The PR industry serves to act in the best interest of their clients, putting a positive spin on everything that their client releases to the public. In cases of crisis PR practitioners are also responsible for reducing the amount of negative publicity that their client receives and attempt to either clarify miscommunication or win back the public’s favor.
Journalists objectively cover a story in the best interest of the public through a watchdog role, even if this paints a business or person negatively.
Journalists Aren’t Great PR Practitioners
While there are several similarities between journalists and the PR world there are also a large amount of differences. Even though strong writing and reporting skills are required for both practices PR practitioners are responsible for an entirely different set of duties that journalists will never be acquainted with unless they gain experience in PR.
Journalists attempt to create a news story as quickly and as objectively as possible. They also have an obligation to the truth while PR practitioners have an obligation to serve the best interests of their client. Both fields work in tandem with one another and may appear similar on the surface, but the qualifications to be a good PR practitioner are vastly different from what it takes to be a good journalist.
Do you think journalists can be good PR practitioners and vice versa? Or do you think that their codes of ethics are too different to be interchangeable? Will journalism continue to decline in the next decade? Let me know what you think in the comments below!