Any difference between PR and journalism?

Watch the full event here. 

“PR has always been the get-out for journalists who want to make more money,” said Martin Veitch who is due to join Bite Communications. “Those who wanted to drink more would become journalists instead.”

This arguably outdated vision of the intrinsic differences between journalism and PR is what promted Frontline to set up last night’s event, chaired by former Times media editor Dan Sabbagh and based around the question: ‘Is journalism becoming more like PR?’

Yet panellist Drew Benvie, managing director and of digital PR agency 33 Digital, takes a different view. He argued that with social and media interaction changing drastically faster than most industries can assimilate, the future of PR is to bypass journalists and feed targeted information directly to the consumers that no longer have an interest in traditional news outlets.

But are we really crossing the line between traditional news reporting and PR-style propaganda? Ian Burell, media editor of the Independent, recognised that times are also changing on the journalists’ side. “Twenty years ago I wouldn’t dream of taking a call from a PR company, now I can’t do my job without them.”

There was a feeling of disappointment amongst journalists and academics, who recognised the need to churn out the stories as fast as possible to beat – or at least match – the competition and satiate the consumers’ bottomless desire for new information 24 hours a day. But has this led to a detriment in the quality of news reporting?

Darren Waters, who has worked for the BBC and is now Managing Director of Monument PR said:”It’s heartbreaking to see people read your stories, because they don’t.” He argued that focus groups show how people read the first three paragraphs and then move on to another story, making the quality of the writing less important than the volume of stories.

PR people in the audience were unsurprisingly shunned more than once by the journalists, with comments such as “it’s disgraceful that journalists share a stage with PR people” or “public relations is just a fancy name for propaganda”. But ultimately, the image of a journalist sitting in an ivory tower, basking in his own noble glory was shot down by comments suggesting that the real issue is whether journalism is becoming more like PR, and not vice versa.

A final show of hands proved that over half of the audience believed that PR and journalism were indeed merging, and it was generally considered to be a good thing that PR companies are now recruiting renowned journalists such as Richard Sambrook to help them to communicate with the press, but at the same time, we want the press to not listen.

Ian Burrell said: “Journalists need to be beholden only to their reader.” Let’s just hope there’s still a reader out there.