Could PR People Replace Journalists?

from the oh,-the-horrors dept

One of the most common complaints about the trouble facing newspapers today is the woeful cry "but who will do investigative journalism?" Of course, that's silly. There are plenty of new entities springing up everyday online that do investigative journalism -- and do it well. On top of that, we noted that especially in the political realm, where partisans had tremendous interest in digging up dirt on opponents, we had little fear that investigations would take place. And while the initial investigations could be biased, getting the info out there would allow more non-biased parties to sort through the details and figure out what is and what is not true.

Romenesko points us to a column by Tim Cavanaugh taking this concept one step further: suggesting that a subset of PR people may end up taking on the role of investigative journalists. Now, I'm sure plenty of journalists are cringing at the concept -- and certainly, as someone who gets bombarded daily with idiotic story pitches that are spun to such ridiculous levels I can only laugh at them (as I hit delete), it makes me cringe a bit. But some of his points are worth thinking about. First, he notes that the number of PR jobs has been growing rapidly -- and that, fundamentally, there are a lot of similarities between the two jobs (in fact, many people go from one to the other), in that a key role is putting together a good "story."
And though it's considered wise to believe the contrary, these communications types are not constructing all these news items entirely (or even mostly) by lying. Flackery requires putting together credible narratives from pools of verifiable data. This activity is not categorically different from journalism. Nor is the teaching value that flackery provides entirely different from that of journalism: Most of the content you hear senators and congressmen reading on C-SPAN is stuff flacks provided to staffers....

But the idea of public relations (and its many fancy permutations, from "image management" to "oppo research" to "crisis") replacing objective journalism becomes less scary when you reflect that, pace Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the cast of High School Musical 3, we are not all in this together. Communications is a highly competitive environment, and it is becoming more competitive. Frequently the most valuable information comes out just because somebody wants to make somebody else look bad.
No, it's certainly not the perfect solution (but what is?). But the main point is that there are other ways to get investigations done and get information out there... and then there's still lots of room for others to pour through the info to see what's real and what's not. I don't think that PR people will replace investigative journalism by any stretch of the imagination, but it's worth thinking about how they certainly may pick up the slack in some areas.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    Jake, May 21st, 2009 @ 6:03am

    So what he's saying is that PR is like journalism, but without the objectivity?

    Stop the world, I want to get off...

     

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  2.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2009 @ 6:17am

    For the past eight years plus, the whitehouse press corp has been nothing but a giant PR machine for whatever side is in power at the time, for fear of losing access if they did any real reporting.

    Right now we just have regurgitated talking points shoved at us by reporters parroting the PR arm of the whitehouse without any real analysis or criticism.

    In other words, a world where PR people are doing investigative journalism wouldn't be that much different than today.

     

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  3.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2009 @ 6:22am

    Ugh

    Every couple of months the internet content-filtering companies put out another study "proving" that content filtering is necessary and useful. This is just one example of the PR "investigative journalism" that gets discussed and torn apart on this website daily. If the best you can say about this new kind of journalism is that it too has the potential to be every bit as bad as traditional journalism could be, then I'm not convinced.

     

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  4.  
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    Chronno S. Trigger, May 21st, 2009 @ 6:25am

    Re:

    It's more like, PR is like journalism, but without the hidden agenda. At least with PR people you know where they stand.

    There will always be a place for true journalism, and if the current "professional" journalists don't want to take that kind of responsibility, someone else will (and probably for free).

     

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  5.  
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    Jack Sombra, May 21st, 2009 @ 6:46am

    Could PR People Replace Journalists? Alleady have

    Honestly I think this has pretty much already happened in many cases.

    Like how many so called news articles do we see each day that are pretty much little more than a copy and pasted press release from entity X

     

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  6.  
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    angry dude, May 21st, 2009 @ 6:51am

    Heck, they already did

    Just look in the mirror, dude

     

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  7.  
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    Claire Thompson, May 21st, 2009 @ 6:52am

    Could PR People Replace Journalists?

    They (we) might try to fill a gap, but there will always be a place for credible news sources.

    IMHO we have to watch our roles very carefully. Where we were once a really valuable source of information for journalists, they now have huge, multi-national, real time resources available to them on sites like FriendFeed and Twitter.

    Adapoting to the changing media environment is going to be as hard for PRs as for journalists - three day sign off cycles won't wash in the culture of 'now'!

    Claireatwaves

     

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  8.  
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    angry dude, May 21st, 2009 @ 7:01am

    Mikey is a PR hack for CPF

    Hey Mikey, how did you spend those first 30 shekels ?

     

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  9.  
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    Joe in NYC, May 21st, 2009 @ 7:09am

    Let's be honest, this wouldn't be an issue but for the fact that "objective journalism" is, for the most part, dead and buried.

    Most journalists do little to hide their biases, so how different are they from the hired guns of the PR world??

     

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  10.  
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    Tgeigs, May 21st, 2009 @ 7:09am

    Re: Mikey is a PR hack for CPF

    "Mikey is a PR hack for CPF"

    Er? As people here probably know by now, I'm a sucker for a good (and plausible) conspiracy theory, but the CPF? Really? Please let me know if I'm wrong, Duderino, but are you talking about the Coalition for Patent Fairness, whose ranks also include Microsoft, Comcast, Apple, Time Warner, etc.? They get lambasted on this site with fair regularity, do they not.

    Mike, you are apparently the Benedict Arnold of lobbyist hacks.

     

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  11.  
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    Pope Ratzo, May 21st, 2009 @ 7:20am

    "Could" they or "have" they?

    The last journalist was replaced by a PR person about 1996.

     

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  12.  
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    Michael Lockyear (profile), May 21st, 2009 @ 7:26am

    How much investigative journalism does print media do anyway? Where I am (South Africa), the hairy stuff is usually done by television.

     

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  13.  
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    Stuart, May 21st, 2009 @ 7:26am

    I have only three words

    William Randolph Hurst.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2009 @ 7:27am

    Re: Mikey is a PR hack for CPF

    I wondered what CPF could stand for?

    From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

    CPF may refer to:
    * California Poultry Federation, the trade association for California's poultry industry
    * Canadian Patrol Frigate, such as the Halifax class frigate
    * Central Provident Fund, the mandatory saving and social security plan of Singapore
    * Charoen Pokphand Foods, the agribusiness sector of the diversified agribusiness conglomerate Charoen Pokphand in Thailand
    * City Parochial Foundation, a charity in London, England
    * Coalition for Patent Fairness, a group of companies who are lobbying for reforms to the United States patent system
    * Communist Party of Finland


    Googled the first entry is Central Pacific Financial Corp (CPF) on the NYSE. Odd that it wasn't in the Wikipedia list.

    I am pretty sure that angry dude is referencing the bolded item. But the fact that hundreds of posters to this site also take the same stance as Mr. Masnick, does that mean we are all schills? And who do you schill for a.d.?

     

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  15.  
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    Fogbugzd, May 21st, 2009 @ 7:27am

    So what would be different?

    I read a lot of articles where the "journalist" has simply rewritten a press release without much independent thought or investigation. We might as well cut out the middle man and simply start letting PR people write the newspapers directly.

     

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  16.  
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    chris (profile), May 21st, 2009 @ 7:30am

    Re:

    "Could" they or "have" they?

    could they? absolutely.

    have they? most likely.

    should they? absolutely not.

     

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  17.  
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    Parker, May 21st, 2009 @ 7:40am

    PRs as content Providers

    Blogs/online newspapers or whatever you want to call the new media are already incredibly busy trying to report every story, and PR pros are there to provide them with content in the form that they can use to share with their audience.
    Any overly-spun or falsified info will quickly be discovered and blasted.

    I think that PR pros are already serving some sort of journalism role, and how big of a role they will continue to serve depends on what happens to the media over the next few years.

    It may turn out that people want to get information directly from companies and organizations, rather than from a journalistic intermediary. In this case, the PR pros will certainly be journalists, providing news and information to the public.

     

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  18.  
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    kirillian (profile), May 21st, 2009 @ 7:50am

    Scary

    It's a scary thought that the world would degrade to this. It definitely takes away the one good foil we have against government abuse - the organized press. Then again, with the press already being in bed with the government, I wonder how long the foil has been missing?

    The only problem with relying on bloggers and individuals for news is that the government could, potentially, seed its own shills into the blogger population and knock off anyone who speaks out against it one at a time (its slightly more difficult to make an entire organized group go under without anyone noticing...).

    I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but that is only because the news organizations would still make it difficult for government at this point. Without them, I sometimes wonder whether or not the government would be able to constrain itself.

     

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  19.  
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    angry dude, May 21st, 2009 @ 7:58am

    Re: Re: Mikey is a PR hack for CPF

    "But the fact that hundreds of posters to this site also take the same stance as Mr. Masnick, does that mean we are all schills?"

    Of course you are not shills: to be a shill you need to be paid by somebody you are shilling for (Mikey gets paid, but you are not)

    You are poor, mindless and patentless techdirt lemming-punk creatures

    "And who do you schill for a.d.?"

    AS a patent holder I stand for my own rights - standing for your own rights is not the same as shilling for somebody else, get it, punky ?

     

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  20.  
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    Flyfish, May 21st, 2009 @ 8:00am

    Could they? They already have, they call this "advocacy journalism" and as near as I can tell all the mainstream press now practices it. There is no reporting, only a managed message.

     

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  21.  
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    angry dude, May 21st, 2009 @ 8:06am

    Re: Re: Mikey is a PR hack for CPF

    "They get lambasted on this site with fair regularity, do they not."

    Who cares, dude?

    As long as their agenda on some critical issues is promoted Mikey gets paid...

    Patents aside, just ask Mikey why he supports H1B visas at a time when laid-off Silicon Valley computer engineers and programmers drive cabs and sell hotdogs on the streets of SF ?

     

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  22.  
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    mattceni, May 21st, 2009 @ 8:13am

    Isn't it that more journalists are turning to careers in PR and now you're seeing a more journalistic approach to public relations? I know a handful of journos that entered the PR industry this year. Not a bad thing, but in the age of Content, everyone is a writer and editor and it's up to the reader to choose where their information comes from. I dread saying this, but "don't hate the player, hate the game." egads!

     

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  23.  
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    lulz, May 21st, 2009 @ 8:48am

    Re: Re: Re: Mikey is a PR hack for CPF

    Insults show you have a lack of an argument, and whip out the name-calling tactic.
    Sorry I don't have anything else to contribute, but you're acting a bit pretentious.

     

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  24.  
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    Azrael, May 21st, 2009 @ 8:59am

    Re: Re: Re: Mikey is a PR hack for CPF

    Probably because those H1B receients will work harder, better and for less money than the current lazy employees thus generating a bigger profit for the shareholders.

     

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  25.  
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    Azrael, May 21st, 2009 @ 9:03am

    Re: Heck, they already did

    Hoorah ! Angry Dude is back. How was your vacation ? What are your plans for this year: a bigger cubicle, a pay finally above minimum wage?

     

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  26.  
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    angry dude, May 21st, 2009 @ 9:13am

    Re: Re: Heck, they already did

    Punky

    perhaps you shoud know that government cubicles all have standard size

    what do you do for a living ?

    Work as a WalMart greeter or push carts in parking lot ?

     

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  27.  
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    Big Mook (profile), May 21st, 2009 @ 9:50am

    Re: I have only three words

    Rosebud!!!

     

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  28.  
    identicon
    Andrew Flick, May 21st, 2009 @ 10:03am

    Objectivity in Journalism? You gotta be kidding me!

    The idea that journalism should be objective harms the profession. Throughout the history of the press, with the exception of the last few decades, the assumption was that journalism is subjective. Despite the facade of objectivity, it is clear that even modern journalism is not objective. In fact, anyone with a degree in journalism knows that true objectivity is unattainable.

    By allowing audiences to believe that journalistic objectivity is both desirable and possible, unrealistic expectations are placed on the profession. When these expectations aren't met, audiences become disillusioned and the overall perception of media credibility is eroded.

    Furthermore, by recognizing that journalism is subjective, audiences are better equipped to understand and make decisions about the media they consume.

    Let's end the farce.

     

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  29.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2009 @ 10:24am

    haha. I can't want until they suggest we replace TV programs and movies with infomercials. That would be good.

     

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  30.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2009 @ 12:43pm

    hey if we get all our news from pr people it would be just like reading techdirt. a one sided story with more slant than the leaning tower of pisa.

     

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  31.  
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    JJ, May 21st, 2009 @ 3:49pm

    I'm a tech journo and I get anywhere between 10 and 20 press releases a day - each release proclaiming the greatness of what ever is being pushed. The person above who said we manage messages is correct in this regard; you have to distill the elaborate message and just write it as it is. Not that skillful I'll agree. But press releases aside, journalism is a craft and those who practice it well play an important role (Seymour Hearst for one) The fundamental difference between (pure) journalism and PR is still the issue of objectivity (and scepticism). Objectivity hasn't changed.

    There are so many more news outlets as a result of the internet, and a lot of them are biased and not terribly journalistic. I think this has changed the way people read the news - which often is press releases, topped and tailed.

    You do get hacks going in to PR, but you'll rarely get it the other way round. PR has its role, but it's not writing the news.

     

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  32.  
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    Mike (profile), May 21st, 2009 @ 4:33pm

    Re: Re: Re: Mikey is a PR hack for CPF

    As long as their agenda on some critical issues is promoted Mikey gets paid...

    Angry dude, of all your unsubstantiated deranged arguments this is the oddest. I also find it odd that you repeat it, since you admitted last year that you were outright lying and you knew that I didn't have anything to do with CPF.

    But, once again, I have stated publicly -- repeatedly -- that I'm against CPF's patent reform plan, which I don't think is very good.

    Separately no one -- NO ONE -- pays us for any blog posts we write on Techdirt. To suggest otherwise is ridiculous. As for the members of CPF, we have pointed out their flaws, repeatedly -- especially on patent issues.

    I don't know anyone who is involved at CPF, nor have I ever spoken to anyone involved in CPF.

    Patents aside, just ask Mikey why he supports H1B visas at a time when laid-off Silicon Valley computer engineers and programmers drive cabs and sell hotdogs on the streets of SF ?

    Because I actually understand economics, and why immigration helps the economy and creates more jobs. I also appear to have a better understanding of what a non-zero sum game is.

    I'm curious about the SV engineers and programmers driving cabs and selling hot dogs. A friend of mine just got laid off, and is currently sitting on 4 different job offers that he got in a week. Perhaps the techies you know haven't kept up their skills?

     

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  33.  
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    Ronald J Riley (profile), May 21st, 2009 @ 5:28pm

    Common Feelings

    "Now, I'm sure plenty of journalists are cringing at the concept -- and certainly, as someone who gets bombarded daily with idiotic story pitches that are spun to such ridiculous levels I can only laugh at them (as I hit delete), it makes me cringe a bit."

    Mike, this is how inventors feel about the quality of your comments about patents and economics.

    Ronald J. Riley,


    Speaking only on my own behalf.
    Affiliations:
    President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
    Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
    Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
    President - Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (810) 597-0194 / (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

     

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  34.  
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    Anonymous Coward, May 21st, 2009 @ 6:11pm

    Re:

    "Let's be honest, this wouldn't be an issue but for the fact that "objective journalism" is, for the most part, dead and buried.

    Most journalists do little to hide their biases, so how different are they from the hired guns of the PR world??"

    I know many journalists and most do try to write without bias. But some are very biased, like Joe Mullin. Is he really a journalist or a PR flack? It is difficult to tell.

    Mike is right about traditional media being in a crisis. One aspect of this crisis situation is that publications are to put it politely sensitive to the whims of their advertisers. It may be that Joe Mullin's bias is more the fault of who he works for and less his own bias. Historically a journalist in that situation would move on rather than allow themselves to be turned into a flack.

    I am waiting for Mr. Mullin to explain why he draws the ire of inventors. His bias so well known in the inventor community that most will not return his calls.

    We also see many academics being bought by big companies. In many cases we are able to identify the specific company their are pandering for.

    Ronald J. Riley,


    Speaking only on my own behalf.
    Affiliations:
    President - www.PIAUSA.org - RJR at PIAUSA.org
    Executive Director - www.InventorEd.org - RJR at InvEd.org
    Senior Fellow - www.PatentPolicy.org
    President - Alliance for American Innovation
    Caretaker of Intellectual Property Creators on behalf of deceased founder Paul Heckel
    Washington, DC
    Direct (810) 597-0194 / (202) 318-1595 - 9 am to 8 pm EST.

     

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  35.  
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    shilpa kasera, May 21st, 2009 @ 10:38pm

    Agree

     

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  36.  
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    Shilpa Kasera, May 21st, 2009 @ 10:46pm

    Agree

    I am agree with this point that PR is the best tool to investigate the journalism and it coule be the possibility that PR people replace journalism because i think PR people makes the journalism graceful and take it on the right track.PR people are the harbinger of journalism people.

     

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  37.  
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    Shilpa Kasera, May 21st, 2009 @ 10:50pm

    Agree

    I am agree with this point that PR is the best tool to investigate the journalism and it coule be the possibility that PR people replace journalism because i think PR people makes the journalism graceful and take it on the right track.PR people are the harbinger of journalism people.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38.  
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    Tom Clarke, May 24th, 2009 @ 12:20pm

    Nonsense

    First of all, this idea of 'objectivity' is a myth that only non-journalists would peddle. Journalists should record the events that occur and interpret them for the reader, helping us all to make sense of the world. In other words, a journalist's first aim must always be truth rather than objectivity. Yet another way of putting it would be: people don't know what objectivity means.

    PR is an industry which loathes truth. Many news sources are already overrun by PR tosh which swamps and hides real news with promotional and potentially untrue stories. If anything, there ought to be fewer PR jobs around.

     

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  39.  
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    Dan, May 27th, 2009 @ 1:26pm

    I think my head would explode if all i read (online or printed) were advertorial after advertorial after sponsored spiel. if the subject matter is 'news' then i'd prefer it to be as objective as possible. but surely there're few enlightened people who rely on only one news source. The joy of subjective journalism is to embrace the personality of the writer - whether you agree with him or not.

     

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  40.  
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    Deepak Kumar, Jun 1st, 2009 @ 5:03am

    Re: Agree

    PR people has those qualities which a journalist lacks. He brings that excitement which a journalist fails to bring. By the way, r u Shilpa from PT Indore

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]


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