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 it should be front and center for people in the business.
No, this is not a “PR is dead” meme, nor a “blogging is dead” meme, nor any of those memes that crop up every year. (Heck, just recently Journalistics had the "PR doesn't change" version of the “dead” meme.)
This is questioning where PR falls now, through a few recent incidents. When PR blogs, are we bloggers or journalists? 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, a.k.a. social media?
So it comes down to this: When PR professionals blog, are we bloggers or 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?
Though I can understand the desire for opinion pieces, even those can and should be based on facts. That’s what I did for my college paper: opinion pieces that were verified with sources. Picking up a phone (or emailing) isn't that hard.
So as PR bloggers—and, yes, I am deliberately 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 for 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 take the extra step, to go the extra mile.
To take it further, as PR bloggers, can we just offer 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, damned 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 fulfilling the responsibilities of 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. 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 panel I would have liked to see at SXSW was Jay Rosen's on the psychology of the blogger versus journalist fight. (Please also read his pre-SXSW post on the subject.)
Blogging and journalism serve common functions: to 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." On the flip side, Rosen notes that bloggers try to keep that "outside the system" credibility 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 is right. Bloggers can no longer be outside the system, as the Internet has flattened everything. And though 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 with the whole, "We're allowed to be lazy and biased," 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; at the same time, though, we're that bridge for media and bloggers to our clients and companies, and we can engage and help out there. (That is why Facebook, Twitter and other forms of electronic media and communications have become so valuable.)
By the way, 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, but that is a whole other blog post.
Jeremy Pepper blogs at Pop! PR Jots, where this article originally ran.