News versus PR: “Who tells the story?”

When I started working on the “Dynamics of Media Writing” book, my goal was to outline the key tools valuable to ALL media practitioners and then explain how each discipline could use them as part of daily work routines to reach valued audiences.

Along the way, I found that professionals who agreed to be part of this book had woven in and out of those various disciplines and that the core tools remained valuable to them. Some moved from news to PR while others went from PR to news. Some started in radio or TV before flipping to print or web-based publications. A few had visited almost every discipline I covered in the text. They all agreed that the tools mattered, as did the desire to reach an audience of interest while behaving ethically.

How that all works out is obviously in the eye of the beholder.

The Student Press Law Center ran an interesting article about the push and pull between student news reporters and university public relations operations. The writing here clearly comes from a point of view, one that sides with the student news publications, so it can be a bit difficult to read for anyone interested in PR. That said, it’s worth a read.

My experiences with public relations practitioners has been similar to my experiences with news reporters: There are good ones and bad ones and you can find plenty of each without having to look too hard. I had the head of PR at one university lie right to a reporter’s face. When I found out and confronted her about this, she told me, “I didn’t feel it was appropriate to share that information with her.” I have also had reporters who have falsified interviews and lied to sources. When confronted, they, too, tried to worm out of taking responsibility for their actions.

Conversely, some of my best friends sit on opposite sides of the supposed news/PR divide. Marketing communication folks at various universities provided me with an immense amount of support and help, even when it didn’t benefit them to do so. News reporters have shared a lot of their work with me and my students, again, when they didn’t have to do so.

To be honest, I often feel like Winona Ryder in this dinner scene when trying to explain this to people I work with or former students who are overly zealous about the PR/News divide:


Long story short: The relationship between news and public relations professionals can be complicated and you can always find an example of how “they” screwed “us” over when you want to. That said, there’s no reason you can’t behave in the most decent and ethical way possible, regardless of your area of the field, to serve as a good example of how things ought to be.

Leave a Reply