Journalists and public relations professionals share many skills.
Still, public relations and journalism as disciplines are very far from each other. Here’s how I define the difference between public relations and journalism.
Journalism is the organised effort to objectively report the news with the common interest in mind.
PR is the organised effort to subjectively advocate strategic positions on behalf of special interests.
Journalism is organised, but not strategic. The objective is to report on events whatever they may be; the purpose isn’t to change the world, but rather to promote awareness in an objectively manner. Objectivity might be an impossible ideal1, but a worthwhile ideal to strive for. Public relations, on the other hand, is subjective by nature; the objective is to advocate subjective interests and positions. Thus, it’s highly strategic and planned.
Based on these definitions, it becomes clear that journalism is far more important for society than public relations. And it is! Journalism is both a way of discovering and uncovering truth as well as a filter for relevance. Someone must, of course, pay for journalistic endeavours which might skew the reporting. Still, the idea of objective journalism bears a tremendous importance.
So, in the face of such a comparison, what merit does public relations have from societal perspective?
Yes, journalism is far more important for society than public relations. But PR does play a role as far as democracy and freedom of speech is concerned; there’s value in allowing each and everyone to argue their position from the best of their abilities.
For a more in-depth look at the relationship between journalists and PR professionals, download (in Swedish) our thesis Strategiska Nyheter (Christiansson/Silfwer 2002), winner of the 2003 PRECIS Award and the 2003 DIK Scholarship.