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In its May/June issue, the Columbia Journalism Review features an article called “The Second Age of Public Relations,” which seems to conclude that PR is gaining on journalists and journalism in both numbers of practitioners and in influence, and treats this as an insidious development.

Maybe, from their perspective anyway, to some extent it is. While I trained as a journalist and have taught journalism at the university level, I have spent my entire career in public relations. I have never willingly lied to a journalist. I will admit to occasionally working in the gray area between truth and lies, but only to the extent of representing the perspective of my “client,” because as everyone knows, there can sometimes be multiple “truths” or perspectives on an issue.

Here’s is my response to the article, which I posted on the CJR website under the article in question.

PR people, like lawyers, represent their client’s interests, whether the “client” is a business, a not-for-profit organization, an arm of government, an individual, a candidate, or even the media itself. If PR people are ethical, their stock in trade is asserting the truth, at least the truth as seen from their client’s perspective. Good PR people are first reporters — they report about their client organization to outside constituencies, often through the media, but sometimes directly. Good PR people work with editors and journalists based on mutually understood rules of truth and fairness, and yes, there are occasions when both sides violate or circumvent these rules. And yes, PR is about a lot more than media relations, and can span the entire realm of communications and relationships. Many journalists will concede, if they are candid, that they can only do their job well with the assistance of good PR people. The writer’s notion that PR is gaining on journalism is perhaps a somewhat distorted version of the truth — too much journalism is descending into infotainment, and journalism is being reinvented as a much more direct and diffused form of reporting through so-called social media.

Posted by Charles Ebeling, APR on Tue 3 May 2011 at 12:38 PM

May 2011

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