The BBC’s Robert Peston fired some broadsides at the PR industry last week in the Charles Wheeler lecture which have somewhat overshadowed his more important message about the value of real journalism in age of commercially driven content marketing.
This has prompted a fairly hot blooded response from Francis Ingham, CEO of the PRCA (whom I know and like and will always have my admiration for pursuing an ultimately successful battle against the NLA, when others capitulated).
As always there is some truth in what both say but where both parties come unstuck is on the question of the extent to which journalism needs PR and who has the whip hand in this relationship.
What is most depressing though is that the two contributions to the ‘debate’ are so antagonistic and in denial of the truth. PR is not the enemy of journalism and nor does journalism rely on PR.
One of the things that I believe undermined the validity of the NLA’s position in its attempt to secure more fees from the PR industry was the implicit denial in their argument that the PR industry was the only beneficiary of their efforts (and should therefore recompense the publishers) when it is obvious that newspaper publishers derive huge financial benefit from the supply of content to them, against which they sell advertising.
The evidence here is abundant and it is surprising that Mr Peston when preparing his lecture did not become aware of initiatives like www.churnalism.com which shows which articles are cut and pasted from PR material, or the popular hashtag #journorequest where reporters seek input from PRs. (There is a special place in Hell by the way for stupid PR people who spam this with offers of products). There are even commercial ventures like Response Source where PR companies can pay to be fed a series of requests from reporters for information and stories.
The response by Francis Ingham to what is in many ways an emotionally driven but fairly inaccurate picture of the PR industry is regrettable. If anything the language of conflict begun by Robert Peston has been ratcheted up. Worse, it is a missed opportunity to offer dialogue on the ways that well prepared, well targeted content adds value to the newsroom . In other words, it was a PR open goal that has gone begging.
Instead we have an equally if not more emotionally driven attack on Peston’s words (and to a degree the man himself) which seems to assert PR’s moral superiority over journalism. I’m not sure who would be interested in the outcome of that debate.
Both journalism and PR need to realise that far from being enemies they have common goals – both want accurate material distributed to the largest audience with the minimum of effort. Both also need the value of earned media to be at the highest possible premium over paid media. The real enemy is the commoditisation of content. That really is a race to the bottom.
That is a solid foundation for a conversation that would benefit both parties and how life can be made better for everyone, but right now that seems further away than it was a week ago.