The role of PR in authentic journalism

2019/11/09 5:50:01 PM Author | Jennilee Peremore-Oliver

As we watch the poor become poorer and the rich and ruthless become richer, I think authentic, honest and fair journalism has never been more needed than it is now. The more I have come to accept this reality, the more I have become introspective about my role as a Public Relations Practitioner (PRP) and my influence when practicing media relations.  How am I using my influence as a PRP for the good of society in general? We have a responsibility to society because as PRPs our influence plays a role in the information that is published and disseminated to the public. We have a responsibility to society that is bigger than we ever thought or cared to consider. In this blog post I explain why that responsibility is so critical.

South Africa is ravaged by poverty. We hear of the plans to combat poverty, such as the National Development Plan, but little comes to fruition. We’re faced with government corruption, inefficient public servants and services that are not rendered to the needy, basic human rights of education and health are denied to millions daily. While there are wealthy people who do good, their money is thrown down a black hole that never seems to fill as there are no methods of sustainability and at worst there is the kind of deep-seated corruption that deems fruitless or breaks down everything that good-hearted philanthropists try to build.

What are poor people left with? Where can they find the true story? Where can they find access to information that can empower them? Where can they find information that will show them where to go and where to find opportunities? Where can they learn more about their rights? Data to connect digitally remains an expensive luxury for the poor, therefore access to information digitally is rarely or at least not a regularly available option for the poor. So where do the poor go for empowerment?

They access free sources of information; they access the radio, free TV channels like SABC, or they can purchase a newspaper that they can share with their community. When they have accessed it, they feel enlightened, but that is only hoping that they have been told stories honestly and that they have been provided with information that can empower them, such as a true depiction of political leaders and not an image of them visiting a hospital, school or orphanage where they just popped in for the photo.
Newsrooms in South Africa are shrinking. Editorial teams are making the transition from producing content for print to producing content for both print and online, and it’s not easy, especially for journalists who never cared to embrace digital. Journalists are expected to do more within a much smaller team, fewer resources and support, and on top of that, they must learn a new skill. 

With daily deadlines, and having to check and double-check research and sources, it can become nearly impossible to produce a quality product that serves as a source of information people want and need. Therefore, newsrooms often rely on media releases received from PRPs to fill the gaps or release the pressure. The question I have been asking myself is ‘how do we as PR Practitioners help journalists fill those gaps?’ Today I pose this question to my fellow PRPs too. Do we fill those gaps with stories that inform, support, educate and enrich the lives of the millions of people who are left poor and destitute? Or do we help government officials and public servants look good in the media by allowing them to make speeches or appearances in photos at events and for initiatives where they played absolutely no role or at least no substantial role to warrant their presence? Do we quote popular influencers merely to increase the popularity of our campaign? Or are we highlighting the plight of many South Africans and exposing those who exploit their rights through our media releases? I suppose it depends on the industry in which you operate, however, we have an ethical obligation to represent a true picture of our clients or at least not paint an untrue one. 

The responsibility of authentic journalism lies not only with journalists who work in media houses, but it also lies with everyone that operates within that sphere whether directly or indirectly. As PR Practitioners we don’t get to hide behind the commercial side of our role. We must hold each other accountable, to a higher level of ethics for the greater good of society. We can no longer deny the human cost that results from the information we share with our media contacts through our media releases. None of us can. We need to become more conscientious of why we write the things we write, who we take on as clients, who we allow to piggyback on our initiatives and the extent of influence we give them.  

How are you using your influence as a PR Practitioner for the greater good of society? Are you using your influence to help those who will never be quoted in a media release? Think about that before you insert that quote in your next media release from an important but irrelevant source, and before your trade the truth for the fluff.