Is the future of media relations in question?

The idea of a journalist feeling frustrated by his or her interactions with public relations professionals is no more original than a PR person feeling frustrated by a journalist. Journalists and communicators have always lived on two sides of a conversation. Working together, pushing each other, even crossing over to the other side from time-to-time.

However, Steve Pearlstein provides us all with food for thought in his recent article in The Washington Post, “No comment: The death of business reporting.” He argues that communicators have become about preventing access to companies from the media, rather than enabling that access.

The digital revolution has changed everything – and on both sides of the discussion. The traditional, subscription-based business model for the news media has collapsed. There are now a smaller number of journalists working to create even more content to fuel a digital-advertising-driven business model. Some publications are focused on creating content that can drive web traffic. Attention spans are limited. These outlets have click bait and listicles replacing more serious, in-depth journalism. At the same time, the world for corporate communications has been changed by those same forces. Our role extends far beyond media relations to owned, paid, and social channels. Companies can reach their audiences directly through many more direct means.

With so many channels to manage, it’s fair for both journalists and communicators to ask if our approach to working with, and serving, the media has changed. Perhaps it has. The emergence of more digital generations means that the interaction between journalists and communicators is largely electronic. We don’t really “know” the people with whom we email. It’s hard to build trust without genuine dialogue. Journalists and communicators each need to work harder to engage with each other, and for reasons that have broader implications than any one story.

We live in a society where the foundations of trust between people and institutions have been shaken. The media is under siege with accusations of “fake news” – its very credibility being questioned. Public relations professionals are too often seen as spin doctors, not worthy of trust.

We have a responsibility as communicators to rebuild that trust, and to partner with the media to affirm its credibility. That starts with respecting each other and the important role communicators and journalists play. We should not denigrate one side or the other as being populated by people too young and inexperienced to be a part of this important story. If this digital era has taught us anything, it’s that age is not an indicator of value.

Page recognizes that journalism and public relations are intertwined, something we highlighted when our board of trustees issued a statement on its commitment to truth and a free and fair press. At Page, we return again and again to the Page Principles, starting with the first principle which is to “tell the truth. Truth is the foundation of trust.

If we can’t work together and trust each other, we can’t expect the audiences we serve to trust us either. Ultimately, we’re in this together.

Aedhmar Hynes is CEO of Text100 and chair of Page.

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