Journalism is dead, long live journalism (says the PR man)

Journalism is dying a slow and painful death. At least, that was the argument put forward by award-winning UK reporter Nick Davies in his 2009 book, Flat Earth News. Well, I disagree entirely.Describing Rupert Murdoch as “a highly successful businessman, a moderately competent journalist in his own right and a brutal and unscrupulous bully,” he attributed much of the decline in journalistic standards to newsrooms being stripped of talent. And as the PR industry’s methods were getting more and more sophisticated, the Fourth Estate became an easy target.

Davies has been instrumental in uncovering many of the questionable practices within News Corporation and he also coined the phrase ‘churnalists’ (instead of journalists) because of the masses of material churned out in ‘news factories’, coupled with the increasing proliferation and influence of PR practitioners.

Many years ago I trained as a journalist and I think journalism can be a noble and important function in our daily lives. And as a PR consultant I disagree with both the claim that journalistic standards are declining and also the view that PR is somehow responsible for undermining news quality. News Corporation has been the architect of its own troubles.

Everyone agrees a good PR campaign has its roots in sound strategy and that it needs to tell an interesting story, but clients don’t always know whether their public relations efforts have been successful. That, in my view, is the single biggest issue that has hindered the PR industry.

In recent years, the way results are apportioned to campaigns has become crucial to the PR industry, particularly as the internet now plays a major role in both measurement and strategy. News is now real-time and stories are instantly updated as they play out. This makes monitoring more challenging. And, of course, whatever goes online remains as a lasting tribute to how well or how badly a situation was handled, or a campaign played out for a client (e.g Telecom and its atrocious abstinence idea).

So the industry as a whole has started to move away from outmoded forms of measurement that were pinned to the advertising industry, such as advertising value equivalency (AVE), and created new, more accurate metrics. And the social media software available (bespoke or otherwise) that enables every conceivable positive or negative assertion about a brand to be captured and then interpreted also bodes well for the PR industry.

At Eleven we’re an active part of that movement, having recently trademarked our own form of measurement called Explore, which provides several different types of interpretation and analysis, based on broadcast media and online coverage.

Given the fact we all live and communicate in an era of 24/7 news cycles, where PR professionals compete with citizen journalists for unique and compelling angles, what does it all mean for the media and for the public who consume that media?

There may be less of them around these days but the influence and importance of the best journalists remains as strong as ever. They will continue to say no to stories offered up by PR professionals because they lack merit, relevance or context for the audience they’re intended. That’s a good thing and, in my experience, the best journalists are the ones who say no the most often.

And that suggests to me that journalism is still very much alive and well, because the symbiotic relationship between PR professionals and the Fourth Estate is just as it should be: with give and take and a healthy regard for the relevance of each function.

So journalism isn’t dead, dying or otherwise. It‘s simply changing with the times (as everything eventually does). And News Corporation is finally realising it has to change as well.

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