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We’re watching the radical disruption of journalism. Is the PR sector missing an opportunity?

Disruption creates opportunity, and the lazy person’s option is to simply keep pace with change, which is mostly what PR is doing.

But an exciting opportunity is to review conceptually how journalism and PR build communities.

A ‘5 Whys’ analysis is useful. It can lead to an appreciation of the higher role of communication; as the glue that binds communities. It’s communication that unites the behaviours and culture that define a city, town, suburb, community group, company, consumer cohort, and even a family.

PR has already stolen the lion’s share of this role that journalists had before the internet and social media. It was journalists who filled the newspapers and radio with stories and information that connected communities. Television evolved by also growing journalism as entertainment.

But now, who provides the glue? Included is a growing list of diverse and well-developed specialties:

–      consumer PR, marketing, etc. guiding us on what to buy;

–      corporate and public affairs providing the guidance on community structures and behaviours;

–      social media providing gossip, employment opportunities, and other information we used to pin on notice boards;

–      with the Internet delivering knowledge;

with journalism still competing for some of its old roles, but essential to keep watch on people in power.

In the 2020’s it’s the public relations profession that owns the above, with the one exception – we outsource journalism. But if we can reach 10s of thousands via social and digital media, why trust another publisher?

It takes a conceptual leap. But once done, logically, PR can employ journalism to provide the critical role of maintaining watch over the values and behaviours that are important to communities.

What!? Can a journalist maintain independence working inside PR and be trusted to be independent?  Yes, provided the company practices ethical PR.

If I’m a spin-doctor – stretching the truth – trust is down, cynicism is up, and working alongside me, journalism fails. I can, however, be an ethical corporate affairs advisor today, protecting a company’s reputation, and tomorrow practice the different craft of journalism, that of analyst and critic.

Dual roles already happen elsewhere: academics use one set of rules to publish in academia and another to publish to the public; doctors who publish for peer review communicate differently to their patients; lawyers argue differently in and out of court.  Board directors – they have to be monitors and mentors to the executives under their governance; CEOs both leader and listener; CFOs both steward and strategist. The rules we apply talking to our children are different to adults.

It simply takes a conceptual leap, which is at the heart of innovation. The audience needs to learn we can do both and then trust us – which has to do with our behaviours and our transparency.

For instance, Wilkinson Butler has a specialist sustainability team. There is only upside if we are able to sponsor a journalist who specialises in sustainability issues: the journalist benefits from our knowledge; PR benefits from the journalist’s critical analysis.

Importantly, once we do both well, the trust of both professions goes up.

Author Peter Wilkinson

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