Balancing home and work
Ethics in flight

Journalism's slow death

PR:Press.001The Pew Research Center's report on "The State of the News Media 2013" should be very troubling to PR practitioners.

The report portrays an industry that is "understaffed and unprepared to cover complex stories" or even to "question information put into its hands." 

"At the same time," the report says, "newsmakers and others with information they want to put into the public arena have become more adept at using digital technology and social media to do so on their own, without any filter by the traditional media."

Some corporate flacks will welcome this news. No more pesky reporters to gum up the works, they'll say. What's wrong with that?

Here's what's wrong with that: it doesn't mean someone isn't going to be writing about companies; it just means the people writing about them are going to be less qualified, have less time to do a thorough job, and be more prone to parroting what others say.

It's a bad omen for business journalism.

Just look how the same trends affected political journalism.  

The Pew Center's analysis revealed that in the last presidential campaign, "reporters were acting primarily as megaphones of the assertions put forward by the candidates and other political partisans." Instead of investigating what the candidates were saying about each other, or putting it in context, reporters simply repeated it. And the more outrageous, the more it got repeated.

So what, some will say. Companies now have a digital connection with their own customers. True, but so do their opponents. And companies have not proven particularly adept at blunting online attacks. 

Indeed, the candidates' experience in the last election may be informative on this score too. A separate Pew study showed that Facebook and Twitter comments about both Obama and Romney tended to be overwhelmingly negative (more than 60% for Obama and more than 70% for Romney). 

Meanwhile, an analysis of Census Bureau data by Robert McChesney and John Nichols found the ratio of public relations people to journalists grew from 1.2 to 1 in 1980 to 3.6 to 1 in 2008. It's probably even higher today, judging by the number of ex- and even current journalists taking PR courses in night school

None of this is good news for the practice of PR. It portends a world with fewer honest brokers to help people understand business. A world of conflicting claims and greater polarization. Just like the political world. 

No reasonable business leader should want that.

 

Comments

Good insight on a troubling trend. Thanks Dick.

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