When I started out in journalism more than 20 years ago PRs were viewed with great suspicion. Newsroom culture fostered a ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality: us hard-bitten journalists knew what was newsworthy and what wasn’t, while PRs were constantly trying to spin stories or peddle some puff-piece. If I was interrupted by a phone call from a PR while working on a ‘real’ news story – perhaps about a dog that likes to swallow socks – I would often be dismissive and reluctant to give up more than a few minutes of my precious time.
Times have changed of course and so has the media landscape. There are now more PRs than journalists in Britain and budget cuts have changed the way news is broadcast and published. Fewer journalists has inevitably changed the way the media sources content and stories, as has the growth of social media. This has obviously presented more opportunities for PRs who want to pitch stories on behalf of their clients, with regional and national newspapers increasingly relying on their input.
It’s fair to say that many journalists, certainly the ones I know, believe the PR industry has become something of a behemoth. But that doesn’t necessarily mean the old love-hate relationship prevails. Journalists, on the whole, are realists and have had to accept they cannot control the news agenda how they used to. However, they also want to work with PRs they can trust and who know what makes a good story instead of being offered poorly-conceived press releases which have been written more to please a client. Storytelling should be the industry watchword and PRs still need to cultivate good relationships with journalists if they want to make headlines. Many journalists have crossed over to the ‘dark side’’ (I’ve worked in a consultancy role for a PR company in the past) and this has also helped remove some of the suspicions about ‘bad’ PR.