Yes, young Frodo, we walk a dangerous path.
On one side, journalism: tell the truth….right wrongs…fight evil.
On the other side, public relations: yell the truth (as we see it)…set the record straight…fight to show we’re not evil personified.
It is a path not for the faint of heart or morally bankrupt.
Occasionally I am asked “How can you teach journalism AND public relations? Aren’t those mutually exclusive terms? HaHaHaHaHaHa!” (And here is where the ‘askers’ usually collapse into a fit of coughing from laughing so hard.) My simple answer is: Wake up and smell the coffee, doofus! Journalism and Public Relations were born of the same parents, raised in the same house and have had a synergistic relationship as long as people have been able to spell the word synergistic.
Out of Print, a 2013 book by British journalist and educator George Brock traced the rise and fall of newspaper publishing from it’s earliest beginnings as a one-sheeter that announced the arrival of slave ships to the Fox/Sun empire of Rupert Murdoch. Journalism as we idealize it today – strong, independent, fearless - has only been around since the 1950s or so. Before that, reporters consistently shilled whatever their publishers wanted, slanted stories to favor their versions of the truth and routinely aided political candidates by not reporting their bad behavior. Good journalism was, and is, storytelling. Put your readers/listeners/viewers at the scene. Help them know what’s happening. Give them the information they need to make sense of, and feel the emotion of, the situation.
And then along came the Internet and destroyed or, depending on your point of view, liberated, everything, Now everyone can be a citizen-journalist. Everyone can be a citizen-marketer. Everyone can tell his or her own story by throwing something up on the Inter-google-webs. I honestly think that’s not a bad thing.
Of course we deal with information overload on the Internet, not to mention half-truths, lies, deceit and outright fraud. But we also use the internet - through reviews, analytics and old-fashioned common sense - to help us figure out who to trust with regard to news, commerce and friends. It is a precarious place. But we’ve been here before. Newspapers saw a rise in circulation by shedding its snakeskin and telling both sides of the story. Radio grew by experimenting with talk, music and news to, eventually, concentrate on what it does best: immediacy and local impact. Television grasped the lessons of print and radio to quickly move from the skullduggery of actors playing doctors who smoke cigarettes on early soap operas to the integrity of Walter Cronkite and the golden era of CBS news.
The internet won’t be an exception. It has had (and still has) its Wild West moments but we are learning how to tame the bucking bronco of the internet to make a very useful, dependable thoroughbred that can take us anywhere we want to go.
So…I told you all of that to tell you this: The latest co-mingling of journalism and public relations is called “brand journalism.” And, as long as it is clearly identified as such, I think it agreeably bangs together the journalistic storytelling style with a PR mindset to produce a new form of audience-centered content that is highly desirable in the social media, share-everything age.
According to a public relations organization called Brand Journalists (brandjournalists.com):
“Journalists know how to create stories that shape public perception and communicate in highly effective ways. At its base, brand journalism is simply the craft of using storytelling to make companies more human and accessible so their customers can relate to them.”
Yes, brand journalism is a craft currently being perfected on the Internet. In 1905, however, Ivy Lee, considered the founder of modern public relations, based his new PR firm on three words: Accuracy, authenticity and interest. Sounds like brand journalism to me.