Infopresse – Why Are Journalists More and More Frequently Drawn To The Practice Of Public Relations?

September 2nd, 2015

In Médiapart, one of the best French online newspapers that I know, someone recently wrote that “the venom of public relations is killing journalists.”

The author used the example of American media, where 12,000 journalist positions disappeared in 10 years (Washington, New York, and Los Angeles seem to be unaffected). During the same period, 20,000 new jobs were created in public relations.

On the same subject, a survey from the American Society of Newspaper Editors revealed that from 2003 to 2012, over 16,000 full-time journalists lost their jobs.

As the head of a public relations firm (and former journalist!), I regularly – and recently with increasing frequency – receive job applications from journalists, most of whom are experienced. This might sound surprising, as to hear some of them talk, you certainly get the impression that we are their enemies, and are part of the industry that is “manufacturing consent” (or “propaganda”), to use the phrase invented by writer and journalist Walter Lippmann (1889-1974).

But the desire for better financial remuneration partially explains this movement towards our profession. Médiapart points out that according to Pew Research Center, in 2013 a PR specialist in the United States earned an average of $54,940, while a journalist earned an average of only $35,600 (this average must inevitably include local media!). Médiapart also reports that in France, the number of journalists has hardly grown: 36,317 professional cards were registered in 2014, while on the other hand, the communications sector employed 377,000 people, or nearly 10 times more.

The financial aspect is not the only reason for this desire to change careers. The arrival of the digital age has also prompted an identity crisis among journalists, as they lost their monopoly on information. A few months ago a journalist looking to join our firm extrapolated on this and told me that his job was becoming less and less interesting, notably due to the influence of social media and social networks. “Sometimes people think that the garbage written on Twitter or Facebook has more credibility than reports written by information professionals. It has become less motivating to practice journalism in these conditions.”

According to an ex-journalist, who is now the media relations director at a major Canadian organization, the lack of advancement opportunities in the press rooms is also to blame for this growing interest in public relations. “After 10 years in journalism, you do the same type of reporting. Public relations offers you the chance to be more creative and, for example, develop management responsibilities,” she told me.

Following 15 years in journalism, I am now beginning my 25th year in public relations. My transition into this new world hasn’t eroded any of the high esteem and respect I have for journalism. That being said, I have to admit that the public relations sector has garnered a lot of credibility over the course of the last two decades. We no longer view public relations professionals as simple event planners, but as managers who are capable of aiding in an organization’s development.

This positive evolution for public relations can also be attributed to the training and skill development offered by the educational institutions and various organizations representing our field in this country. I would even say that the quality of our communicators’ skill development surpasses that of the training given to working journalists – which is already of a sadly rare quality.

But whether they are a journalist or a public relations specialist, I will always favour the person who, in addition to their communication skills, possesses general knowledge. During a job interview it often happens that candidates don’t know the answers to simple questions such as “Who founded Montreal?” or “Who was the Prime Minister at the beginning of the Quiet Revolution?” A natural curiosity is an essential intellectual asset that should be considered as a basic hiring criterion in our industry. Whether the candidate is a journalist, public relations expert, or the new recipient of a B.A. in Communications…

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