Great debate: is PR killing journalism?
By Carly Ann Smith
The night of the 22nd February had finally arrived…..the big debate….. “Is PR killing real journalism?” The event was organised jointly by the University of Lincoln’s Marketing, Advertising and Public Relations department and the Lincoln School of Journalism. It was sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Public Relations.
Anita Raghavan, a journalist with Forbes magazine and Marc Wadsworth, a lecturer at City University and founder and editor of thelatest.com formed the journalists side. Andy Green, author, partner in Green PR and creativity entrepreneur and Peter Smith, a lecturer at Lincoln University with significant PR experience formed the PR team. The stage was set.
Both sides put forward some great points. Anita claimed that PR practitioners were there to pull ‘the wool over people’s eyes’ and to deliberately shade the truth and even lie.
Andy Green didn’t feel the need to stay behind the lectern and read from notes. He was calm, collected and engaged with the audience. Using a glass of water to represent his point he argued there is no definitive truth, people are always biased and when things are placed in a large context their meanings can be changed. He wanted to work together with journalists to create better consumers of media and claimed we had a collective interest. This is a point contested by Anita saying she didn’t see any middle ground that they could meet on.
Marc described PR professionals and journalists as being in a ‘sickly embrace’ and claimed PR practitioners needed journalists more than they needed them. He wanted journalists to ‘return the spin’ instead of letting journalism become ‘churnalism’ – mere printing of press releases with no investigation.
Peter Smith said, “To be a good PR professional one had to think like a journalist.” Journalism isn’t dying it’s just changing. He emphasised we must ‘survive together or die separately.’
Questions flooded in from the floor with students (and lecturers alike) asking probing questions.
The debate posed a further question for many people: journalists attack PR for being biased, but surely the only difference between PR professionals and journalists is that PR professionals are transparent in their intentions? Everyone understands that they work for a particular company so their intentions are clear. It has been claimed that “any story that you look at will select some facts over others, highlight some opinions over others” – Is that not classed as spin because it was a journalist who said it?
The big result? 11 for and 34 against the notion that PR is killing journalism. Even PR practitioners wouldn’t claim this is a definitive result, to suggest however that it carries ‘next to no information at all’ defeats the object of having the debate. This is a debate that is unlikely to be settled and is undoubtedly one to watch. If journalists think that real journalism is in decline maybe they should look elsewhere for the cause…