Is there still a difference between journalism and PR? by Elena Georgieva

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It’s no secret journalists and PR people love to hate each other. But with the rise of social media, countless digital platforms and our constant demand for news, the lines between PR and journalism are becoming more and more blurred. High time, therefore, for Women in Journalism and Women in PR to hold a join debate on the issue. Hosted by PR consultancy Weber Shandwick on 6 November 2014 in London, the panel was chaired by WIJ chair Eleanor Mills, editorial director of the Sunday Times and included:

Tiffanie Darke, creative content director for The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun
Angela Oakes, joint president of Women in PR and managing director of Tree House PR
Kate Joynes-Burgess, head of digital at Weber Shandwick, London

The panel discussed how on one hand, if it wasn’t for PR some publications would struggle to fill in their pages. On the other, how do you stay truthful to your publication’s values if the people you feature, and who help pay your salary, demand to be presented in the best possible light?

“After the economic crisis in 2008 we had to stop being horrible to brands and had to start playing the game,” said Tiffanie Darke, creative content director for The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun. “Facing the economic difficulties and having to think of advertising revenues helped us become more focused as a publication and have more creative content.”

With the rise of the Internet and more recently social media, now anybody can easily create their own publishing platform. However, well known and respected media outlets still have one crucial advantage – authority. Regardless of how much the media industry is changing, the panellists pointed out, readers are still looking for the unbiased, non-commercial editorial that has made the publication renowned and trusted. After all, there is a difference between what a brand wants to tell you and what the truth is. This on the other hand pushes PRs to create as good content as an independent editorial.

“When I started in PR things were very different, content never existed as a word,” said Angela Oakes, joint president of Women in PR and managing director of Tree House PR. “Now digital agencies are taking over, the media has changed fast and a lot of companies are not going to journalists but are talking directly to their customers. PRs can bypass the traditional journalism and control the message.”

20141106_193024There’s no question social media can have a very quick positive impact, but brands also need to be careful and very well prepared as they could quickly and very easily lose control of it, said the panel. Don’t forget that Twitter, Facebook and others alike are very good at surfacing bad things. With the rise of social media brands now need to be more accountable because the consumer is given a greater power.

Although everything is now done on the move and publications increasingly engage their readers through tablets and/or mobile phones, the panellists reminded the audience they must remember that authenticity and transparency is absolutely key.

Panellists’ tips for PRs on working with journalists

  • An exclusive is always welcomed
  • Find that group of individuals that is most suitable for your brand
  • Look at the wider landscape to reach the audience that you want to reach
  • By 2015 86% of all content will be video
  • Provide a good story and new facts
  • Give journalists more assets – they have lots of platforms that they can’t populate on editorial budget
  • Consider how much money you want to put in your assets
  • Look for media partners that can educate your clients in the digital age
  • PRs are struggling as there is so much more that they don’t cover


Panellists’ tips for journalists on working with PRs

  • The primary force of a newspaper is telling the truth and it is crucial to maintain the trust of its readers
  • Being transparent is fundamental to the trust of the readers
  • Don’t forget that there is a competition for the readers’ attention
  • We have to evolve as journalists
  • We have to make journalism appealing to people
  • People trust a newspaper that is unbiased
  • As a newspaper if you sell out the editorial trust, you are nothing


Panellists’ comments on the event:

Kate Joynes-Burgess said: “I found the event fascinating and it was a privilege to be on the panel. It was also very interesting to see the different viewpoints of the other panellists”

Eleanor Mills said: “It was completely fascinating. It’s a cutting edge topic that goes to the heart of how we do journalism in the future. The most important thing for journalists though is to hang to their integrity.”