PR in a blogger versus journalist world

Or to be more exact, what is the role of public relations (not publicity) in a world where journalism and blogging continue to butt heads?


It's a conversation I've been having with friends and industry colleagues, and should be front and center for people in the industry.

But no, this is not a PR is dead meme, or blogging is dead meme or any of those memes that crop up every year (heck, just today Journalistics had the "PR doesn't change" version of the dead meme).

This is questioning where PR falls now, through a few recent incidences. When PR blogs, are we bloggers our journalists? And extending that with Jay Rosen's SXSW post - why is there still that division? And with that division, where is PR fitting in - or should we not worry about the division, especially with the rise of community relations, aka social media?

So it comes down to this: when PR professionals blog, are we bloggers or are we journalists? As gatekeepers and bridges and, well, examples for our clients, should we hold ourselves up to a higher level and standard than other bloggers? Should we take that extra step to verify and report?

While I can understand the desire for opinion pieces, even those can and should be based on facts. I should know - it's what I did in the college paper: opinion pieces that were still verified with sources. Picking up a phone (or emailing) isn't that hard.

So as PR bloggers (and yes, I am purposely ignoring social media blogs), do we have an obligation to get the full story, to tell a full story?

Do we have a professional courtesy and obligation to other PR people to get their client's (or clients') side of the story, to present the other side, even if it's just an opinion piece?

If we are supposed to showcase best practices internally and externally for both our junior staff and our clients, we have no choice but to go the extra mile, to take the extra step.

To take it further, as PR bloggers, can we just use the excuse "I'm a blogger" and get away with it? Should there be that line anymore between blogger and journalist? And, well, isn't that line a bit tired and old, and let's be honest, fucking lazy?

With all these fights between bloggers and journalists, is there really that much of a line anymore? With the disappearance of trade press (especially B2B technology), where do you go besides bloggers who specialize in those verticals? If we uphold those bloggers to a higher degree of veracity, why should PR bloggers get a pass when they are just "blogging" and not being a journalist?

When we approach (or, come on, pitch) bloggers, we hope that they post the story with as much background and news as possible, and if there's a mistake, we go back and tell them and hope for a correction. Nay, we should demand a correction if there isn't one forthcoming.

Shouldn't we demand the same from ourselves? Is there really a line anymore between blogging and journalism, or is that all just the lazy excuse for not doing the homework, possible due diligence or good writing?

The funny (sad?) thing is that this debate of blogger versus journalist still going on out there.

The one panel I would have liked to see at SXSWi was Jay Rosen's on the psychology of the blogger versus journalist fight (also read his pre-SXSW post on the subject).

Both blogging and journalism serve a function, both give the public information and tell stories. But as noted by Rosen, "blogging cannot replace the watchdog journalism that keeps a government accountable to its people." And on the flip side, Rosen notes that bloggers try to keep that "outside the system" cred that allows them to say "I'm just a blogger" - which also means we can be lazy and biased (as bloggers).

As he notes, neither are right. Bloggers can no longer be outside the system as the Internet has flattened everything. And while journalists DO put themselves out on the front lines quite often - a great piece by Simon Dumenco in AdAge encapsulates with a bit of snark - there are also bloggers out there that are on the front lines of war zones, disappearing and dying. The Internet has flattened and equaled many things out, and that includes content.

As for PR people, what does that all mean? For PR bloggers, stop doing the whole "we're allowed to be lazy and bias" because it's bullshit. Man up, and own up. For PR people and outreach, well, the best line is from Animal Farm: All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others.

At times, we need to draw a line in the sand for outreach and community relations. We can't hit everyone; but at the same time, we're that bridge for media and bloggers to our clients and companies, and we can engage and help out there (which is why Facebook, Twitter and other forms of electronic media and communications have become so valuable).

BTW, yes, I do hold PR bloggers up to a higher standard than social media bloggers; PR is based on journalistic values and social media is based on well, who knows sometimes. There's so much less transparency in social media, that that is a whole other blog post.

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13 comments

  1. Jeremy,
    It's conundrum to be sure. I agree with you theoretically - we definitely should be held to a higher standard and verifying everything, getting the other side of the story. The problem is, when we're blogging about Zappo's or Toyota, or the Japanese crisis, we're not going to get callbacks from the PR depts. From their perspective, I can hardly blame them: IF they are getting a call from every Joe Blow with a blog, there is no way they can respond to everyone.
    Transparency is the key - maybe there needs to be something that states, this is an opinion piece, the other party was not available for contact. Or maybe that is implicit in a blog. Not sure, I'd be interested in others' opinions.

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  2. Great post, Jeremy--you've given me a lot of food for thought! How ironic that PR bloggers forget they are part of the discussion when we talk about the whole journalists vs. bloggers issue.

    I fall into your category of PR bloggers but I've never thought of myself as a journalist per se (despite my background in print journalism). Most of my content is based on opinion and personal experiences, which I am careful to point out or disclose for readers. Mostly, it's because I recognize that my perspective is not the end all, be all of an issue, and I invite others to contribute their opinions as well for a more rounded discussion.

    I generally believe that when presenting fact or opinion, journalists and bloggers alike should be held to the same standard. We're all online together, seeking and sharing information. To your point, this blurs the lines and makes it so everyone should do their part in ensuring accuracy and transparency.

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  3. By day I'm a PR professional. By night I'm a published freelance writer. I can tell you that I have to wear different hats to write for my company's blog versus our local newspaper.

    Whatever we tell ourselves, at the end of the day, when we blog for our company or a client, their needs and objectives have to come first. Otherwise, why are we even in PR?

    We may try to "tell the full story" as a means, a tactic, for getting results (e.g., inform a reader about a product trend, educate consumers about a new kind of service, etc.) but the goal and the impetus for PR writing is to increase sales, brand awareness, consumer loyalty and so on.

    Journalism is just the opposite. When I write a story for a paper, I'm reporting for the sake of reporting-- just so that people know about something that may interest them. The person that should benefit the most, and whose interest I keep in mind, is the reader.

    Editors have to remind their writers to avoid conflicts of interest, to stay as objective and factual as possible, to cite sources properly, to fact-check, to not have a motive. There are journalistic standards that don't exist in blogging.

    It's not to say that one is better than the other. The approaches are simply different. When I'm writing as a PR professional, I am clear that what benefits my company often also benefits consumers, but I don't let that confuse me into thinking that I'm being altruistic or doing a public service by helping my company reach its goals.

    I also don't want to undermine the value of real journalism and what goes into a good news story.

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  4. I enjoyed your post, Jeremy.

    I've been in PR the same length of time as you. But I don't blog about it.

    My main thought is: I think everyone should fact-check, even in opinion pieces. For me, I don't see the higher standard as applying only to PR bloggers. I think it should apply to everyone.

    Thanks, - Scott

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  5. Hi Jeremy!

    First, I like this post a lot and agree with PR blogging being different than SM blogging. I do a bit of both.

    I like that you hold PR bloggers to a higher standard. I have a few opinion posts that I should definitely still have facts and such in. It's something I need to work on.

    Favorite part of this - "PR is based on journalistic values and social media is based on well, who knows sometimes."

    Thanks for posting this!


    -Lauren

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  6. The goal of a public relations department is to improve or develop a company’s reputation. This task is definitely a tough to perform.

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  7. It's definitely necessary for all people to be held accountable for what they write or say in public forums. I think that's a common problem that could be easily fixed if our entire media system wasn't full of misinformation and borderline propaganda-in some extreme cases. The media, in general, must think that by bringing up any information, whether it be true or false, is better than having nothing to write about in their time crunch schedules.

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  8. Why do you think Public Relations isn't seen at the same standard of reporting or informational integrity as journalism? I think most people have a perception that Public Relations only deals with manipulation-and in addition, give manipulation a very negative connotation.

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  9. Both PR people and bloggers should learn to coexist as well as learning from eachother. These are two different skillsets, but PR can learn a lot about how bloggers create a lot of interest overtime.

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  10. That's a hilarious post. I have to say during this reading process I can't stop thinking about China's PR career, I have to say, even in China, PR is not a great reputation work area, and my taking PR as my major requires coverage. That's also the reason why I keep thinking about ethical issue during my learning experience. Rome is not build in one day and bias are not coming from one night. I wish PR people could hold their brave, integrity and modest to view this world, just like what journalist did, which is also my previous major. That's why I think they are matching with each other. ^_^ However,journalism in China is different with US~ that's another story~~

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  11. That's a hilarious post. I have to say during this reading process I can't stop thinking about China's PR career, I have to say, even in China, PR is not a great reputation work area, and my taking PR as my major requires coverage. That's also the reason why I keep thinking about ethical issue during my learning experience. Rome is not build in one day and bias are not coming from one night. I wish PR people could hold their brave, integrity and modest to view this world, just like what journalist did, which is also my previous major. That's why I think they are matching with each other. ^_^ However,journalism in China is different with US~ that's another story~~

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  12. I suppose as PR bloggers, we definitely should check our sources. However, I've always felt that blogs are more personal. You cannot equate them to an article by a journalist published in a newspaper. As a blogger, you are not really answerable to anyone and blogs are mostly opinion based. Having said that, I stil believe that it's important to quote references and be accurate in order to maintain complete transparency.

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  13. Yeah always be careful and check sources before you write, however sometimes even when you do all the above things can still get out of hand. Anyways great post.

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