The Journalist & PR Debate, by David Parkin

May 19, 2017

It is a confrontation fierce enough to rival a battle between King Kong and Godzilla.

But there used to be only one winner.

Journalists had the upper hand over public relations people because ultimately, they had the power to either use or bin the press releases they were sent.

When I started in journalism PRs were viewed as a few rungs down the ladder from us professional wordsmiths. It was seen as a rather grubby profession you might take up when your journalistic career had run its course and you wanted a few more quid in your back pocket and an easy life.

How times have changed.

Bright, talented graduates are now favouring a career in communications rather than taking a risk stepping onto the shifting sands of the media sector. Cost pressures on the media, particularly the printed press, mean there are now fewer journalists to fill more space. There is a demand for content and the journalists just don’t have the time to find, develop and write every story in a newspaper or on a website. Many publishers have jettisoned experienced – and more expensive – reporters and replaced them with eager, but inexperienced journalists.

They are bound to lack contacts and so forging strong and trusted relationships with PRs helps them deliver the content that their publications and websites crave on an hourly, never mind daily, basis. Receiving well-written press releases on interesting subjects is manna from heaven for busy journalists with too little time to fill too much space.

So the relationship between journalists and PRs today is more like 50:50.

Both appreciate what the other can do for them and they have a mutual respect for each other. I for one believe this is a fair reflection of the modern relationship between those who report the news and those paid to promote positive messages about their clients. Of course, a balance has to be struck. Nobody really wants to view media packed full of just press releases. Unfortunately that is the level to which some publications have now fallen.

So is there an ideal balance?

I think journalists accepting well-written and interesting submissions from PRs is fine, as long as they are comfortable with the style and content. In theory, this should then give the reporters the time to develop stories of their own that can sit comfortably alongside those emailed in by eager PR people.

The once confrontational relationship between journalists and PRs has developed into one of grudging respect and that is how it should be.

Although I still defy any journalist not to lose their temper when a well-meaning but geographically naive PR person from London rings you in Leeds with a story about Birmingham.

When I asked the caller why the Yorkshire Post would be interested in a press release about a company in the Midlands, I was greeted with the response:

“Well, it’s near you isn’t it?”




David Parkin is media entrepreneur, blogger and event host. He is the founder of regional business website and a former business editor of the Yorkshire Post.