PRs and Journalists: A Match Made in Heaven?

Over the years, we’ve had several former print and broadcast journalists in our team. Currently the total stands at three, so you could say we know a little bit about the relationship between PRs and journalists.

Having former editors and broadcast journalists in our team has instilled a strong ethos of meeting deadlines, reporting newsworthy stories, proofreading and accuracy.

The relationship between journalists and PRs is one of constant fascination within the communications industry.

The relationship might be best described as an uneasy marriage, but not one worth the divorce.

Over the years, relationships between PRs and journalists have changed, and writing as a multi-sector PR, marketing and digital agency we would argue that the playing field has been levelled – even if some journalists would hate to admit it.

The relationship has evolved parallel to developments in the news cycle combined with the rise of online media.

It might be hard for some to imagine, but 25 years ago the landscape looked different. There wasn’t an endless choice of TV and news channels accessible at the click of a button, and there was no such thing as social media.

Local and national newspaper sales were a lot higher than they are now. Newspaper editors boasted a large team of reporters and photographers tasked with finding and reporting the news.

For good or for bad, journalists and PRs alike can agree that those days are over, particularly for local, regional and trade press.

A former journalist working in PR will take no satisfaction in saying that – but it’s reflective of the industry today. If it were any different, the PR sector would probably not exist in the size and scale that it is today.

It’s not all bad – many national newspaper groups remain in a healthy position. 

But there’s an increased pressure on editors and journalists to churn out news at a more rapid pace than ever before. Most local ‘weekly’ papers now have online platforms that require updates on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. Gone are the days when local journalists had five or six pages to fill a week and nothing else. Today’s journalists are expected to write copy for their print paper as well as produce daily online news stories which tempt users to click and read.

In some cases, large towns with a population of more than 20,000 have newspapers being operated by one or two reporters with an editor based remotely.

It’s a bleak reality because without the online platforms, news outlets would take a hit in their advertising revenue and would simply not sell enough papers to keep themselves in the black.

More stories to write, more consumer demand for news and fewer people to produce it.

This combination has meant the press is increasingly reliant on using stories from public relations agencies, and that’s why PRs with a strong record of producing newsworthy and accurate copy will succeed in getting their clients coverage.

The way we consume news has changed. You don’t have to wait for the six o’clock news to know what’s happening on the other side of the world – you can get the headlines instantly with a single click on your phone. This was unheard of two decades ago.

Having former journalists in our team means we have a good instinct of what might be of interest to newspapers and magazines. Contrary to what some journalists will believe, PRs don’t just send press releases for the sake of sending them. Well, some might do, but we certainly don’t. We advise our clients to spend their currency wisely.

Essentially, it’s a relationship where both parties can’t exist without each other.

Imagine a world without PR agencies. Journalists would have to work twice as hard to retrieve stories and with the small number of reporters behind some news desks, there’s simply not enough staff (or enough time in the day) to research, write and report newsworthy stories on a daily basis. The picture is even more bleak if you turn to trade publications, many of which are expected to publish industry-related news with the resource of one or two reporters.

Yes, journalists are the ones that press ‘publish’. They are the editors; they have the final decision as to what they publish and what they don’t publish. No one can take that right away from them.

But time-poor journalists are more reliant on PRs sending them good quality news stories than PRs are to journalists publishing them.

In the new media age, there are many more ways for us to communicate our client’s message – in fact, we’re doing this right now by publishing this blog on our website.

By making the most of multiple social media channels, we can reach our target audiences in more than ways than ever before.

PRs are looking for coverage for their clients and journalists are looking to report and publish good quality, newsworthy news stories for their readers. PRs and journalists might be working towards different objectives, but it’s still a relationship of mutual benefit.