Is journalism dead? Well, no, but it is under attack from its old nemesis, the Dark Side: Public Relations. And while there will always be a place for good, old-fashioned reporting, PR is likely to take more and more territory from journalism in the future.
The trend has been bubbling for some time now, and finally the PR people are taking shots across journalism’s bow.
My local public radio station, WNYC, recently did a piece calling New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, the “YouTube Governor”, for his ample use of the website. When Christie posts video of himself berating people, joking with reporters, or just presenting a platform, voters, residents, and current-events junkies can go to YouTube and watch. Christie has eliminated the journalist from the conversation. His PR team makes video showing him in the light they want to present, and they post it.
Many people in America, but especially conservatives, are skeptical of journalism and journalists, accusing them of liberal bias. Well now those conservatives can get their news straight from the source: a public relations team.
The question is whether most people will be savvy enough to realize that they are being spun. I have some very intelligent friends who seem to believe everything they read on the internet, especially if it does not come from the so-called “mainstream media”. However, even if they do recognize that the governor’s website only tells us what the governor wants us to hear, by the time they watch the video – through a blog, social-media post, or email from a friend – the source may be difficult to discern.
Of course, Republicans are not the only people usurping journalism’s place in our news cycle. President Obama – and therefore, his PR team – is famous for his use of the internet, from his social media campaigns in 2008, to his recent decision to post the entire transcript of his State-of-the-Union address online – before he presented it on live, national television. Now the truly enterprising news follower can literally follow the news, as it unfolds, by reading along with the president’s speech. Who needs to buy the newspaper tomorrow, when I have already read and heard the speech. You could even watch it streamed by the Whitehouse PR team, on their own website – no need for Wolf Blitzer’s commentary.
There was a time when following people was creepy. Now I can just click a button, and Follow all the politicians I want, on Twitter. I can read everything they (actually, their spokespeople) say, as soon as they say it. And those 40-character statements are like little pullout quotes, and I don’t even have to spend very much time reading them all. It sure makes the average Times article look long …
But we’ll address Twitter’s impact on media another day. Today we talk about public relations, and how it threatens journalism. I’ve worked in both fields, and I think that today, my flack friends have a much greater impact than my hack friends, those shabbily dressed, ink-stained wretches of the Fourth Estate.
There was a time when you avoided wars with people who bought ink by the barrel, but today we don’t need ink, and Chris Christie has all the space he needs, to get out whatever message he wants. I even hear New Jersey public radio reporters lamenting that he cuts them out of meetings and even mass emails, in favor of reporters he deems more worthy. Listening to public radio as I do, I routinely hear Christie tell off reporters, something politicians would have been afraid to do in the past, but now he can post a video of it online, a proud example of how he stands up to the mainstream, “liberal” press. The implication being that the video clip his PR folks post online is somehow less biased than the professional journalist who does not work for him.
So, while there will always be journalists and journalism, the future of that noble profession is in doubt. My money is on the PR folks, with their internet passwords and social-media accounts, to someday take over.