Danny Rogers: New book reignites a critical debate

Almost a year on from the publication of Nick Davies' controversial Flat Earth News, a new book - What's Happening to Our News - is set to relight the debate about dwindling standards in journalism and the potentially malign role of PR.

Danny Rogers
Danny Rogers

Thankfully this new work, emanating from the Reuters Institute of Journalism, includes a more balanced explanation for, and analysis of, a growing PR industry. The author, Andrew Currah, goes as far as saying that Davies’ dichotomy between journalism and PR ‘is excessively bleak and misleading’.

Reflecting many of the opinions consistently expressed here, the report outlines the social good that PR contributes: its ability to make government more transparent; to give charities and NGOs a stronger voice; to raise awareness of public health issues.

As this writer has argued many times, the book asserts that today’s media create a pluralist battleground for ideas, where PR people argue their case and journalists provide a professional filter of, and verification platform for, competing claims.

But alongside a warning for publishers – which Currah claims are starving their journalists of resources – there is also a timely warning for PR professionals: that with growing power comes growing responsibility. We all know some comms people are more professional and ethical than others, and the report rightly highlights the need for PR firms to have ‘a social responsibility to be honest in the reporting of their world’.

This debate on the interdependent relationship between journalism and PR will rage on, but one thing is certain. Quality journalism is indeed under major threat – not from PR, but from the recession and from the parasitic nature of online, aggregated content – and it is in all our interests to help news organisations protect this central pillar of democracy.

PR people must take responsibility and play their part. They must act honestly and act ethically. Above all they must respect and cherish the quality media that give credibility to their profession.

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