BethMellor’s Weblog

Postgraduate journalism, news and views.

Journalism and PR: A complicated relationship

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Visiting the Home Office with Danny Shaw (BBC Home Affairs Correspondent) last week was an incredibly revealing insight into the symbiotic relationship between journalism and PR.

It is a relationship which is commonly oversimplified, with damaging effects. As journalists we are taught not to give much weight to the words of PRs, who have vested interests and their own agendas. Journalism, we believe, is about revealing the truth and increasing public access to information, whilst PR is about spinning the news, obscuring information, and covering up scandal.

Yet both industries are far more complicated than this. Government Press Offices have a public service element in the same way as newspapers do; one of the primary functions of the Home Office Press Office is to inform the public about what the Government is doing in their name. And, as Civil Servants, Government Press Officers are duty-bound to present information in an unpartisan way – which cannot be said about most newspapers. Naturally, their work always endeavours to show the Home Office in a positive light, but a healthy dose of journalistic scepticism is all that is needed to see through this.

On the other side of the coin, anyone who has read Nick Davies’ candid exposé of journalism, Flat Earth News, will be aware that journalistic ideals – even at the most well-respected publications – can go astray. Journalists too may have vested interests, partiality or, quite simply, encounter logistical constraints which impede honest and accurate reporting. Noam Chomsky’s Manufacturing Consent deals with this theme for the American media.

Rather, then, than blindly distrusting PRs it is perhaps better to look at all sources with a critical eye – whether they come from PRs or from fellow journalists.

Written by bethmellor

November 3, 2008 at 10:17 pm

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