Tuesday, October 18, 2016

The PR Shift

By Nicole Schneider

The alarm sounds and the day is done for journalists. They can hang their hats and kick off their shoes because the public relations specialists are coming in for their shift. Some argue, it has been a while since these shifts were equal, therefore, the product may begin to look a little different; this product being truth.
Harry Browne 
What is Public Relations
Public relations can be defined as “a strategic communication process that builds mutually beneficial relationships between organizations and their publics,” according to the Public Relations Society of America. This concept defies the key value in journalism that fights the infiltration of bias. If a person or organization is working to better a relationship between two parties, the means of accomplishing this goal may blur the truth or taint the truth with bias.

PR as a Growing Trend
Washington Post & Pew Research Center
The public relations trend in media is rapidly outgrowing a struggling world of journalism. The number of PR people per journalists and newsroom peoples has a direct negative correlation that has been expanding at a greater rate over the last few decades. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were “4.6 public relations specialists for every reporter in 2013,” with the number of public relations professionals rising by 22%. This means there are fewer journalists out there to actually dig for the truth rather than accept what a PR firm says.

The gap is not just apparent in employment but wages as well. By 2013, on average, reporters earned 65 cents for every dollar public relations specialists earned. These indifferences disrupt the balance between these two professions that make the news fair.

Public Relations and Skewing the Truth
In addition to potential bias, issues with public relations have seeped into the media through  
branded content and corporate journalism. Branded content refers to ads created that appear to be a part of the original medium they are placed in. For example, sponsored ads on Twitter- they look like another tweet on your timeline till you see the small note at the bottom. Branded content issues have arisen when organizations neglect to share whether the content is paid content or journalistic content.

Corporate journalism is a severe form of branded content that would lead to a distortion in the story and therefore the truth. The rise of digital media has naturally fueled the shift to corporate journalism but, more importantly, increased the potential for error.

Ethics of Public Relations
In order to prevent a change in the product of truth, public relations professionals must act ethically. Some of the most important ethics to the field of public relations include knowing your role, holding people accountable, and creating an ethical environment. The role of PR is not to create a culture of organization in a company- this is for the CEO to do. PR specialists are then responsible for sharing the culture of the company within and with outside sources. PR professionals must also hold people accountable, which can be difficult when intense pressure exists. There are consistent demands to beat the competition, management is willing to overlook policy breaches, and when there is a fear of job loss. Finally, PR specialists must create an ethical environment.

Despite being paid by one party, a public relations specialist must stray from the "yes man" mentality and maintain a sense of independence, carrying strong voice. PR specialists realize that "yes man" has no value, no value whatsoever" and therefore stand up to the CEOs in the name of ethics. Although it may be easy to fall into one of these traps, PR professionals are not faltering, overall, due to the importance they place on credibility. As one PR specialist notes, "I can’t afford to lose my credibility… As PR professionals, it’s all we have.”

To be certain problems don’t arise, I recommend newsrooms start asking for a few more hours on the clock.

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