The power of PR

The Indy’s media analyst Ian Burrell on how journalists are being outnumbered by spinmeisters:

As any experienced reporter will tell you, the relationship between the news media and the public relations industry has changed out of all recognition in the past generation. So much so that PRs, once a specialist niche group operating in the shadow of an army of working journalists, are now the numerically superior group… The scales of power have shifted…

Neither can it be healthy that so many journalists see a top job in PR as the pinnacle of their future career. Former journalists such as Roland Rudd (Financial Times) and John Waples (Sunday Times) are among the most powerful figures in financial PR. How likely are we to discover the dark secrets of the City if all young business reporters aspire to follow a similar path?

Many Westminster journalists have come to see their destiny as a lobbying role – public affairs is another big PR growth area – or a political communications job, a sector that has become defined by former hacks such as Alastair Campbell, Andy Coulson and Craig Oliver. None of this strikes me as particularly healthy if the press is to act as a check on the powers that be.

Considering how much influence PRs now have, it’s amazing that there’s so little radio or TV coverage of the workings of the invisible hand. (I suppose R4’s Media Show comes closest. Is there something tucked away on a satellite channel? ) I don’t even mind if it’s something as brief and breezy as What The Papers Say. But we really do need something. Like any journalist, I depend on press releases in my daily life, but it worries me more and more that, especially as a freelance, I don’t have time or the energy to keep track of the marketing strategies being used on people like me. And, of course, my end of the business — the arts — is fairly trivial. I hate to think what goes on in the real world.


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