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Journalism versus PR

April 9, 2010

In Inside Reporting Harrower informs his readers that one of the differences between journalism and public relations is the intention and position of the writer. In journalism, reporters “avoid taking sides or advocating action,” (191) while PR practitioners’ job “requires loyalty and persuasion” (191). Although Harrower indicates that journalism aims to be objective, he fails to acknowledge the reality surrounding the news industry. Aside from partisan journalism, even those news organizations that strive to be objective cannot truly remove themselves from the story.

Malcolm Gladwell, the author of The Spin Myth, describes the professions more accurately. His essay opened with a description of Edward L. Bernay‘s organization of the Torches of Freedom march, which involved women holding cigarettes. Gladwell concluded the description by saying that “sometimes the best way to sell something (cigarettes, say) was to pretend to be selling something else (freedom, say).” Unfortunately, most reporters follow this method as well. Although they are not attempting to sell a product, biased news organizations feign providing information, when in reality they are publishing an idea.

Reporters cannot completely remove themselves from the story. The decision to include or omit a quote and a statistic “spins” the story. Similarly to how PR practitioners strive to maintain a desirable image, journalists search for drama and entertaining news pieces. Therefore, readers should still be wary of reporters just as reporters are wary of PR practitioners. As Gladwell says, “spinning is the art of telling a story, even when there is not story to tell.” The job of the journalist is to find, or even to some extent, create a story by selecting a certain angle. Therefore, a reporter should not be described as a silent lens, but instead compared to a filter.  Although Harrower is correct in that the intention of the professions differ, the result is very similar.

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