So, what is the difference was between journalism and PR? I’ve stopped and asked myself the question this week. I’ve been thinking of how to explain the difference.
For 12-years I was a journalist and rose to become assistant chief reporter of a daily regional newspaper. Back then I would have told you that the difference was news was everything they don’t want you to know. The rest is PR, I’d have said.
Eight years on and director of my own company I know the difference is more to it than that just a lack of shouting news editors and no double murders.
The truth is that if there was a Venn diagram, there would be surprising little between the two. At best, it’s a common use of the English language and the knowledge that news is people. And people like to read about people.
Here are 15 differences
A yardstick of success. As a journalist, your measure is if you’ve got the front page. Failing that, it’s a healthy number of pageleads. As a comms person, it’s a number of things. Chiefly, being able to show the material difference your content has made. The number of foster carers recruited, for example.
Criticism. I say this with love, knowing journalists will take umbrage. There is nobody so thin skinned as a journalist. I knew this when I was one. I know it now too. As a comms person you are like a sniper in no man’s land. Under fire from all sides. Your organisation and those outside will throw things at you.
Professional regard. Journalists are special. Not trusted, especially. But special. They have a Press bench and a Press pass. Doors open. Comms people have a daily battle to have their opinion listened to. Solicitors? Planning inspectors? Doctors? Their word is law. But anyone with spell check and clipart thinks they are a comms person.
Audience. A journalist, in the words of a former colleague only half in jest ‘tries to make old people scared to leave their homes.’ They used to have one main channel. Like the printed newspaper or radio bulletin. Now they have to use more. A comms person needs to know as many of the 40 different skills as possible.
Skills. While the reporter needs more skills now than ever the PR or comms person needs to draw either individually or across a team up to 40 skills.
Diplomacy. A journalist can smile politely and ask why the chief executive has failed to build 100 homes on time. A comms person needs the tact to talk through the implications of how that failure will play out and suggest a course of action.
There are no jacks under it. As a journalist, I’d be encouraged to make a story a bit more exciting by ‘putting the jacks under it.’ Outrage, slam, row. As a comms person you play it straight. You stick to the facts which are always sacred.
Accuracy. Now, here’s a thing. I was more accurate as a PR person than a journalist. There. I’ve said it. The news desk request to write a story to fit a pre-determined idea is a thing. I’ve done it. In comms and PR you need to be certain of your ground or you become the story.
A difference. A journalist can try and make a difference by holding power to account. A comms person can make a difference by drawing up the right content in the right place at the right time.
Planning. Long term planning on newspapers was often tomorrow. The concept of a comms plan to work out the business priority, the audience and the channel is alien.
Obsolescence. The journalist suffers from being in an industry whose business model is being re-invented and as a result there are casualties. Comms as an area is developing.
Hours. Long hours to make sure the paper is filled are common on newspapers – who are often renamed media companies. Hours in comms and PR are long. But it’s rare to be stood outside a burning factory in Smethwick, I find.
Writing. Just because you can write for a newspaper doesn’t mean you can write for the web. Or Facebook or Snapchat.
Your employer and your ethics. You bat for your employer as a PR person. But you bat for your ethics first. At times you have to know your ground and say a firm ‘no.’
Innovation. There can’t be a more exciting time to be a comms person than now. The internet has tipped up old certainties. The tools we can use are evolving and the guidebook on how to use them you can write yourself. How good is that?
Like many former journalists, I admire good journalism. But don’t anyone think that being a reporter and being a press officer or a PR person are remotely the same.
Picture credit: Mattiece David / Flickr
PAPER LOVE: Seven local newspaper stories… I cried at number two and you’ll never believe number sixPosted: November 2, 2016
Local newspapers, like the mob, has a habit of pulling me back.
For 12-years I worked on local papers writing whole forest-pulping amounts of stories on everything from table-top sales to triple murders.
More than a decade since I sent my last nib the industry keeps tugging at my coat tails.
Today, I read an earnest defence of local newspapers blogged by Ian Carter. You can read it here. In it, he defends the industry against the accusation of clickbait, listicles and falling standards. In particular he siezes on a well-documented story of a frontpage story of an out-of-date pasty being sold. It’s five years ago. Or, rather as this is newspapers there are CAPITAL LETTERS to show OUTRAGE:
“As part of the case for the prosecution, he digs out a story published five years – FIVE YEARS! – ago by the Folkestone Herald.”
Hey, maybe Ian is right. So, I’d like to share some more contemporary work in the style of a listical featured in the excellent Angry People in Local Newspapers Facebook page you can see here.
Seven local newspaper stories… I cried at number two and you’ll never believe number six
- CHAIR DESTROYED – Westmorland Gazette. It’s all kicking off in Kendal. However, the anonymous spokesman would have offended my old news editor greatly.
- CARNFORTH CIVIC HALL GETS NEW VACUUM CLEANER – Westmorland Gazette. Yet again, the Gazette is on the money. But no picture of the new Henry? Shoddy work!
- POLICE NOTICEBOARD LOCKCHANGE ROW ERUPTS – Wigan Today. Can nobody stop 2016 from being such a year? Bonus point for glum man next to the noticeboard.
- RESIDENTS PLUNGED INTO DARKNESS AFTER STREETLIGHTS TURNED OFF AN HOUR EARLIER – Lincolnshire Live. Never turned off. Always plunged. Good work.
- AN UN-BEAR-LIEVABLE SNAPSHOT! – Cambrian News Can I see the teddy bear in the sky like this one lucky reader? No, I can’t actually.
- CREME BRULEE TERROR – North West Evening Mail The very WORST kind of terror.
- ANOTHER BROOM SNAPPED IN HALF IN DERBYSHIRE VILLAGE – Derbyshire Times. Even more WORST terror.
So, join me to jump for joy, raise a glass to fine quality local journalism and look sad next to a pothole. There is a post I’ll write on newspapers and where they feature in 2016. This isn’t it.
A major US newspaper announced plans to fire its entire picture desk a week or two back. All 28 of them. To go.
As someone who has worked on newspapers and now deals with them as part of their job that’s a significant step.
It also underlines in it’s own small way this whole ‘the landscape is changing and pr people need to develop new skills’ thing that I’ve been writing about for the past four years.
Of course, it’s really tempting to dismiss this as the death twitch of an industry that is on it’s knees and move on. What really stopped me in my tracks was a blog by Andy Ihnatko an occasional contributor to the newspaper in question the Chicago Sun-Times.
In it he recognised the pain this step was causing but rejected the idea that newspapers just deserve to die.
He makes an excellent observation that newspapers need to get new skills and as the web and mobile web get more important. What struck me was the observation that perhaps the web developer is now doing what the photographer used to do. Their ability to produce eye-catching content that brings pages alive are now playing the role the snapper and picture editor used to.
Newspapers are a machine, he writes, adding:
“The machine was fantastic at manufacturing what readers wanted from 1850 to 1999. But it now needs to be retooled to manufacture what readers want in 2013.
“What if it fired photographers, but hired more web developers, and gave that department extra resources? Photographs aren’t than just pretty pictures; they serve many practical functions for an edition of a newspaper. They allow for a more attractive page design, they make the newspaper easier to visually navigate, and they offer the reader an alternative method of engaging with the stories.
“ A well-designed, responsive web page does the same things…with the added modern benefit that it allows a story to look great on any device. “Your photos aren’t anything special” is an aesthetic complaint. “Your site goes all screwy when I access it from my iPhone” is a report about a bug that prevents the user from reading the content.
“The point is that if a newspaper really wants to double-down on the value of their content, having a great team of web developers on staff is critical. I’d be less concerned about the sub-par photography of a site than I would about a site that’s hard to read on the device of my choice.”
So in summary, web developers are critical.
When you consider how mobile-first my own life is that has a ring of truth. My holiday frustration at the webpage that doesn’t show on my mobile to tell me the swimming pool opening times, for example.
What are the lessons for local government comms people?
It’s the importance of knowing that to present your story on the web you’ll need to present it well and in a way that people can read it. It’s getting more important that you’ll need a good web developers in your team to help you tell your story.
It also means that submitted pictures to newspapers in times of cut picture desks have real value. For now.
So, it’s back to that changing landscape stuff again really, isn’t it?
PRINT TRUTH: ‘Newspapers in print are clearly going away. I think you’re an idiot if you think that’s not happening.’Posted: April 12, 2013
Fail to understand the changing landscape and very soon you won’t have a job.
It’s something I’ve been banging on about for some time now and It’s true whether you are a journalist, comms person or a fifth generation pit prop maker in 1983.
A bright person a few weeks ago told me that there would always be newspapers because they’d always be there.
People thought that about coal mines once too.
There’ll always be news but there’ll always be print newspapers? Really?
As the rise of Twitter as a breaking news medium and sites like BBC that’s just not the case.
Here’s an interesting few quotes from John Paton, CEO of Digital First Ventures who own, as their website says, more than 800 print and digital products that reach 57 million customers a month.
If you aren’t taking it from me take it from a news organisation that has a $1.3 billion turnover.
They are quotes that comms people need to know about because they represent more evidence of the seismic change in the media landscape.
But why switch to Digital First as a company name?
“Digital First is my name. I’ve been saying it long before I got here. The name originally was to say very loudly — in a headline kind of way — that what we thought we did in newspapers, we had to change dramatically. And that, of course, meant digital first.
“And actually “digital first, print last.” I wanted to hammer home that this idea about the Web as something else we do was ridiculous.”
“The Web was and it should be what we do. Print is something else that we do, which happens — at this moment in time — to have almost all the revenue. But that’s not going to be our future. It was something that I named to try to hammer home that message. It’s kind of funny — I don’t think they have a “digital first” strategy at Google. They have a strategy. The name, hopefully, if we’re successful, becomes very dated.”
On paywalls and digital dimes…
“I don’t think paywalls are the answer to anything. If we’re swapping out print dollars for digital dimes, I think paywalls are a stack of pennies. We might use the pennies in transition to get where we’re going.”
On newspapers going away…
“Newspapers in print are clearly going away. I think you’re an idiot if you think that’s not happening.
On making the shift…
“I think we still are too afraid to take the kinds of risks we need to take because there’s so much money tied up in print. We have $1.3 billion in revenue. And of $1.3 billion, $900 million is advertising and $165 million of the advertising is digital advertising. Four years ago, that was almost nothing. That $165 [million] is going to have to more than double in three years. To do that, we’re going to have to take some risks on the print side. That’s the one thing that scares the [expletive] out of everybody.
“I love newspapers. I’m a newspaperman. My father was a printer. I started off as a copyboy. I love newspapers. But they don’t love me anymore.”
You can read the whole interview here.
That’s something worth reflecting on.
Creative commons credit
Robert Peston famously spelt out the future of journalism – and PR – in a landmark Richard Todd lecture.
Just 12 months on and he’s out of date. Or rather, he needs rebooting slightly.
If web 1.0 was the equivalent of pinning up a digital public notice with web 2.0 we started to learn how to listen.
With web 3.0 we’ll be learning a whole new set of skills. The role of open data will be central to journalism and hand in hand as a consequence with PR. I wrote an idiots guide to it here a few months back and boy, I’m still learning.
With the open data revolution gathering pace reporters must now also be at home navigating a data store as they are on the Town Hall press benches. Press officers must do likewise.
Why? Because the avalanche of public information that will be released has the potential to sweep all before it and drown the unprepared.
Mathew Ingram, the communities editor of The Globe and Mail in Toronto, famously has said “the golden age of computer assisted reporting is at hand.”
Data journalism is a phrase that will become as familiar in journalism colleges as Teeline shorthand and exam favourite The Oxdown Gazette. What is data journalism? It’s the use of apps and mash-ups to mine for news amongst released data. Isn’t that for geeks? No. Where once a council committee report would bear fruit the data set is the new news source.
Open data brings transparency and openness.
Think of it as FOI turbo charged and you’re not even close.
Hyperlocal bloggers who are at home on the web are light years ahead in the interpretation of open data compared to print journalists.
Some journalism courses understand this. The excellent Birmingham City University gets it in spades.
So where does this leave the press officer?
The fashionable thing to say is the press officer as gatekeeper will be redundant by web 2.0 and buried by web 3.0. For me, that’s hooey.
But the old-style press officer who has served time as a hack and can only write a press release is a dead man walking.
What is needed to keep pace with the information arms race are new skills.
The ability to work with or create a mash-up will become as important as having a notebook or a sharp pencil.
Will the press officer for web 3.0 be an allrounder? Definitely. Will they have to have the command of every skill? No. But the team he belongs to sure as hell collectively will have.
At the risk of sounding in years to come as a BBC Tomorows’ World clip, here is how the web 3.0 communications team needs to look:
- Have basic journalism skills.
- Know how the machinery of local government works.
- Write a press release.
- Work under speed to deadline.
- Understand basic photography.
- Understand sub-editing and page layouts.
For web 1.0 the press office also needed to:
- Add and edit web content
For web 2.0 the press office also needs to:
- Create podcasts
- Create and add content to a Facebook page.
- Create and add content to a Twitter stream.
- Create and add content to Flickr.
- Create and add content to a blog.
- Monitor and keep abreast of news in all the form it takes from print to TV, radio and the blogosphere.
- Develop relationships with bloggers.
- Go where the conversation is whether that be online or in print.
- Be ready to respond out-of-hours because the internet does not recognise a print deadline.
For web 3.0 the press office will also need to:
- Create and edit geotagged data such as a Google map.
- Create a data set.
- Use an app and a mash-up.
- Use basic html.
- Blog to challenge the mis-interpretation of data.
But with web 3.0 upon us and the pace of change growing faster to stay relevant the comms team has to change.
Data journalism links
What is data journalism? A good introductory piece from The Guardian..
Mapped: the UK’s road cycling hotspot A mash-up of accident data by The Times.
Oil and Gas Chief Execs Are They Worth It? Lovely Financial Times data visualisation – needs a sign-up.
Is It Better To Rent Or Buy? New York Times data visualisation.
What is a mash-up? Great advice from the BCU journalism lecturer Paul Bradshaw.
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