Wednesday, July 22, 2009

PR-Journo Ratio

The Grand Rapids Business Journal (after a nice mention of this blog) in its Street Talk column cites an item from the Center for Michigan newsletter: "there are now five times the number of public relations professionals as there are journalists in the state."

They say that like it's a bad thing.

Appropos of nothing, the BJ goes on to wish citizen journalists at the Rapidian --a project of the Grand Rapids Community Foundation and the Community Media Center--good luck with all those PR pros.

(Self disclosure--I have been involved in some of the planning meetings for the Rapidian, support the prospect of citizen journalism because of my interest in the intersection of PR and journalism in democracy, and used to work at the Grand Rapids Community Foundation).

A few comments:
  • people have been noting the disparity in numbers of journalists and PR pros since the 1920s, when Columbia journalism grads went directly into public relations. It's a meaningless comparison. Stating the number implies that PR pros and journalists should exist in equal proportion. That's wrong because:
  • PR people do far more than contact journalists as part  of a media relations or publicity function. Studies have shown that it is not unusual for PR practitioners to rarely contact reporters, since the job involves counseling management, writing and producing organizational media, planning events, and increasingly reaching out directly to publics via traditional and social media. But even when PR people do engage in media relations:
  • that isn't always a bad thing. Seasoned journalists will tell you, and new citizen journalists will find out, that many PR pros are tremendous assets to reporting, whether it's by convincing a reticent CEO to do an interview, responding to requests for facts and illustrations, or alerting them to a legitimate news story that would not have been noticed in the usual beat reporting of meeting coverage etc. 
  • To be sure, sometimes PR people are an annoyance when they blitz reporters with information that is not news but is merely self-serving. Those writing for Rapidian might come into their citizen journalism with a skepticism toward PR. But they will soon find that smart, ethical PR pros will be a boon to them. And the resentment might be towards those who ignore them and their neighborhood news endeavors.

1 comment:

Good Morning Grand Rapids said...

I read the GRBJ comment as a way to slam two audiences at once. It implies A. that PR people are inherently bad and B. that so-called "citizen journalists" will be overwhelmed by PR in a way that real newsmen would not.