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
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.
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