The Relationship Between Journalism and Public Relations

Last Updated: 17 Aug 2022
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The relationship between journalism and public relations has been described as tumultuous. Hitchcock (2012) says there is a shifting dynamic between the two and has found that journalists are starting to become more and more reliant on public relations ‘(PR)’, while Jackson (2009) says that up to 80% of media content has come from a public relations source. In this instance, Evans (2010) says, “it is time to admit that the two disciplines of journalism and PR are two sides of the same coin and that there is now complete freedom of movement between them” (p? ). FIND PAGE NUMBER

This essay will discuss the role of both public relations and journalism in the media, followed by an examination of the symbiotic relationship these two professions share. Differing views and issues surrounding the relationship will also be considered. Furthermore, media relations and new media technology will be examined regarding the tension between PR and journalism. A conclusion will then be summarized to support the idea that the relationship between public relations and journalism is symbiotic to an extent, however there are other factors also to consider when making such a statement.

The Oxford Dictionary (2012) defines the term symbiosis as ‘a mutually beneficial relationship between different people or groups’. In this case we are examining the relationship between PR and journalism and how they mutually benefit from their day-to-day dealings with each other. According to Tench (2009), PR plays an important role in shaping the news by persuading other people to convey important messages to the organisations publics. This is done with support from media outputs and can also be described as ‘endorsement’.

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Furthermore, the PR practitioner should use sound media relations to gain editorial coverage in appropriate media channels. By doing this, Comrie (2007) elaborates that the organization’s reputation will impact positively by integrating a strategic plan in line with the company’s mission. Journalists in the media are wary of public relations practitioners, regardless of the fact that they deal with them daily. According to White and Hobsbawn (2007) they view PR practitioners as ambiguous sources to deal with and are often cautious and wary of whether the information given could be misleading or deceptive.

Furthermore, Callad (2007) says that journalist’s gut reactions to ‘PR’ in general are almost immediately related to specific PR people in which they may have had a bad experience with, instead of the response to the profession its self. This type of stereotyping is a typical occurrence in their professional relationship. The relationship between PR and journalism is seen to mutually benefit both parties. Edward Bernays (in Evans, 2010) talks of the crucial importance of the press. This is because newspaper coverage can translate social ideas into facts, which in turn can influence the target publics of an organisation.

Jackson (2009) also supports the idea that there is a symbiotic relationship of some kind existing between PR and journalism by saying “PR is a fact of life. Journalists should recognize it as an important channel” (p2). Jackson then elaborates on the role of PR by stating that there is a very significant amount of PR material in the media and that therefore plays an important role in news making. Furthermore, Grunig and Hunt (in Tench, 2009) underwent a survey in 2000 that indicated PR sources are responsible for around half of the news printed in newspapers.

Press releases sent out by the Press Association are likely to include contribution from practitioners. (Mersham et al,. 2009) says that both sport and not for profit charities use emotional content in the promotion of their organisation, which in turn appeals to media outlets. These situations support the idea of symbiosis between PR and journalism, as journalists like to run stories with high emotional content, which will then in turn generate positive publicity for the organisation.

Many journalists don’t like to admit that they do rely on PR in one way or another and unfortunately in this day and time, journalists are pushed for time as media channels have rapidly increased and budgets have been tightened. Because of this, little time is left for journalists to investigate stories independently. (Lewis et,. al 2008) found that up to 60% of stories coming from either articles or broadcast news contained elements of ‘pre packaging’. This can be described as a press release being regurgitated by a journalist into a news story, with very few facts missing.

Callard (2011) further describes the symbiotic relationship that is evident between PR and journalism. These two professions interact with each other daily for the production of news. PR practitioners provide journalists with a suggested story and information shaped in the way they would like it to be publicized in a specific media channel. Moreover, journalists then request information and sources from PR practitioners that may aid them in developing a story for the public. Although this seems both parties mutually benefit from each other’s presence, it doesn’t come without its controversies.

Issues with credibility of both PR practitioners and journalists are said to always exist. Journalists should only post stories of interest to the audience, while PR practitioners should use media relations to get print or broadcast coverage without interference from the owners of the publication. (Tench, 2009) agrees with this by saying that these current priorities of confliction are said to describe the tension that exists between the agenda’s of these two competitors. Similar views are expressed such as (Mersham et al. 2009) with some journalists and PR practitioners seeing each other as allies, but are more frequently seen by each other as the enemy or people that they cannot trust. In saying this, PR practitioners are also wary of journalists. Gregory (2002) says that PR practitioners have a responsibility to keep a considerate distance between themselves and journalists but continue to provide them with material that reflects the truth. Moreover, we see that they continue to hold a symbiotic relationship in relation to the work they do, but whether they value each other on a personal level is very much debatable.

According to (Davis, 2007) journalism traditionally was seen to hold power over PR as they had control over what was to be published. Due to cutbacks in resources and the continuing change in media channels, PR material and sources have developed which is resulting in a change over who holds that power. Moreover, Greenslade (2003) argues that this causes tension in the relationship as journalists like to think they are more powerful and rather believing that PR can benefit them, they feel conflicted to use positive, helpful sources of materials that PR practitioners provide them (Haller, 2007; Tilley & Hollings, 2008).

Media relations must be understood as less about breaking news, and more about tactical work that is going to target the key stakeholders of your organisation. Gonring (in Comrie, 2007) suggests that it is also about “learning to strategize and manage press coverage to shape the opinions of important constituents” (p63). To put more simply, Tench (2009) mentions that we can view media relations as a relationship between an organisation and the press. The skilled practitioner needs to make sure they form sufficient relationships with journalists so that accurate, effective stories can be produced.

This is important for both parties as White and Hobsbawm (2007) say “mutual exchange of information between these two groups of information gathers and providers is necessary, and not a matter for disapproval” (p290). New media developments are having an impact on both professions and the symbiotic relationship they share. White and Hobsbawm (2007) mention that journalism is heavily dependant on PR sources regardless of their personal relations and therefore more demands are needed to produce new and exciting material for new channels of media. The phenomenon of social media is changing the way we communicate.

Because of the social aspect of new media, practitioners can present information that individuals can talk directly to each other and find truth themselves. There needs to be a more realistic approach to the relations between PR and journalism, as they may not possess the same interests, but they face the same threats and the context in which they operate is the same. The main points outlined above demonstrate that a symbiotic relationship between PR and journalism does exist. It is evident that both professions require some kind of reliance on each other.

In saying this however it must be considered that although some symbiosis occurs, it doesn’t come with out scrutiny from both professions. White and Howsbawm (2007) elaborate by saying journalists are heavily dependant on PR practice in spite of the fact the views they hold of them. Media relations also contribute to the love-hate relationship in which they share, but also the need of each other for the growing world of technology. The above views suggest that although the relationship between PR and journalism is symbiotic, it is also seen as unstable, and that is not likely to change in the near future.

References: Bailey, R. (2009). Media Relations. Harlow, England; New York: FT Prentice Hall Callard, H. (2011) Attitudes and perceptions of newspaper journalists towards public relations practitioners in New Zealand. Retrieved from http://scholar. google. co. nz/scholar? hl=en&lr=&q=related:Bcq7pKS7k_QJ:scholar. google. com/&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=X&ei=1cAwULHIMo2WiQf87oCoDw&ved=0CD0QzwIwAA Comrie, M. (2007, October 29). Media relations: From tactics to strategy. Retrieved from http://publicrelations4u. blogspot. co. z/2007/10/media-relations-from-tactics-to. html Davis, A. (2000). Public relations, news production and changing patterns of source access in British National Media. Media, Culture and Society, 22(1), 39-59. Evans, T. (2010). We are all in PR now. British Journalism Review 2010 21: 31 DOI: 10. 1177/0956474810374531 http://bjr. sagepub. com/content/21/2/31 Gower, K. (2007). Public relations and the press: The troubled embrace. Evanston, IL:Northwestern University Press. Greenslade, R. (2003) Press Gang: how newspapers make profits rom Propaganda, Basingstoke:Macmillan. Gregory, A. (2002). To Spin or Not to Spin? – The Ethics of Public Relations [Lecture]. Retrieved from Leeds Metropolitan University. Grunig, J. E. , & Hunt, T. (1984). Managing Public Relations: Holt, Rinehart and Winston. Haller, M. (2007). Symbiosis or antagonism: The neurotic double bind. In Merkel, B. , Russ-Mohl, S. , & Zavaritt, G. (Eds. ). A complicated, antagonistic and symbiotic affair: Journalism, public relations and their struggle for public attention (pp. 95-99). Lugano, Switzerland: European Journalism Observatory.

Hitchcock, S. (2012, February 18). Tumultuous relationship between journalism and PR thawing says Waikato researcher. The University of Waikato. Retrieved August 19th, 2012, from http://www. waikato. ac. nz/news-events/media/2012/02tumultuous-relationship-between-journalism-and-pr-thawing-says-waikato-researcher. shtml Hollings, J. , Lealand, G. , Samson, A. , & Tilley, E. (2007). The big NZ journalism survey: Underpaid, under-trained, under-resourced, unsure about the future – but still idealistic.

Pacific Journalism Review, 13(2), 175–197. Jackson, S. (2009, May 4). PR driving up to 80pc of content. The Australian. Retrieved August 19th, 2012, from http://www. theaustralian. com. au Lewis, J. , A. Williams. , B. Franklin. , J. Thomas. , and N. Mosdell (2008). “The Quality and Independence of British Journalism’, Cardiff School of Journalism, Media and Cultural Studies. Report found at http://www. cardiff. ac. uk/jomec/research/researchgroups/journalismstudies/fundedprojects/qualitypress. html Mersham, G. M. , Theunissen, P. , & Peart, J. G. M. (2009). Public

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