PR Grows and Journalism Shrinks

Last week, I had the pleasure of seeing Ira Basen, of CBC’s Spin Cycles radio series, deliver a lecture at Seneca College. His comments centered around the frustration that public relations practitioners experience with regards to PR public image; how it is defined by those who are least sympathetic to PR: journalists. CBC’s history of grimly portraying the PR industry included, a radio documentary-turned-book, The Sultans of Sleaze (1989), followed by Truth Merchants (1998), which examined PR from a journalistic perspective. Finally, Basen put together Spin Cycles (2007), which took a more objective stance on PR.Although Basen criticizes public relations practitioners, he also criticizes journalists, which comes as a relief to PR folks due to the anomaly. In general, the public relations community has been very receptive to Spin Cycles, particularly in the UK, US and Italy. Basen speculates that this is because he takes PR seriously as a vocation and knows more about its history than most practitioners. Basen talked at length about the growing strain on contemporary journalists. Using Toronto as an example, there is an increasing demand for journalistic content. Toronto is the successful home to four major dailies with an unprecedented readership of 2-3 people per household. On the other hand, we hear every day about layoffs in journalism. Just recently, the BBC announced that 12% of its journalists were getting cut. In 1991, there were 12,700 journalists in Canada, compared to 12, 500 in 2001. The gap between the demand for news and its supply has widened. This means our journalists are strained, meeting impossible deadlines with limited resources. What it also means is that the newsworthiness and quality of printed stories is eroding. In school, we hear constantly hear about the inundation of newswire services (CNW Group, Marketwire) with news releases in Canada, with numbers reaching upward of 200-300 news releases each day.

As the number of news releases generated continues to increase, the resources and time that journalists have to come up with stories is decreasing, which ultimately affects the quality of the stories we read. The implicit contract that journalists have with their audiences to deliver newsworthy and credible stories has been broken as the real news stories are lost in a sea of news releases based on latent advertising and product placement. Thus, Basen believes we cannot lay the blame on the public relations industry, but rather on the depleting resources of our journalists.

Keep reading BlogCampaigning for more on Ira Basen's ideas next week!

- Jess