Kate Nicholas: Blogging revolution will force change in PR

Could citizen journalism and the blog spell the end of PR as we know it? It sounds like an exam question for a PR undergraduate, but it is an issue that deserves a bit more thought from those already relying on the business to pay their mortgage.

In fact the issue was debated at some length by PR grandees who probably have fairly hefty mortgages at Editorial Intelligence's inaugural debate.  The discussion was billed as 'Business Comment better than Business News?', and initially covered some fairly familiar territory –  that business news is now ubiquitous, so the pressure to be sensationalist is huge, with a corresponding drop in editorial veracity.

Unilever's Tim Johns represented PR interests on the panel and pointed out that few in business go to bed not knowing what tomorrow's news is going to be, and they are likely to work against a backdrop of rolling TV and online news. Print news in this context news is old hat, leaving papers no option but to editorialise.

As The Times' Patience Wheatcroft and Channel 4's Liam Halligan bemoaned, the two areas are becoming increasingly blurred, and it's a slippery slope when – perhaps in desperation to meet news editors' demands – comment masquerades as news.

At least if something is labelled as comment, and the polemicists clearly identified – you can decide whether to take their personal opinions with a pinch of salt or not. But the problem is differentiating between the two.

This situation becomes even more knotty on the internet where enthusiastic amateurs abound and where many media consumers are alerted to stories through blogs before they come into contact with any hard facts.

So what does this mean for PR?  There is a particular resonance in the fact that public relations practitioners have for the last couple of decades been the interlocutors between organisations and print and TV news journalists – if, in a few years, the unthinkable happens and said journalists are cut out of the equation, media relations as we know it will no longer exist.

Now any attempt at crystal-ball gazing can backfire terribly, but I'd be mightily surprised if, as one doomsayer in the debate suggested, the rise of the blogger spells the end for PROs.  It is more likely that we'll see a turn to the roots of PR when public relations professionals actually dealt with the public, even if these days it's in a virtual environment.  And if this is the case, 40-something journos might have to start thinking of an alternative second career option.


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