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date: 08 March 2021

Public Relations and Journalismlocked

  • Merryn Sherwood, Merryn SherwoodDepartment of Politics, Media, and Philosophy, La Trobe University
  • Timothy MarjoribanksTimothy MarjoribanksDepartment of Management and Marketing, Swinburne University of Technology
  •  and Matthew NicholsonMatthew NicholsonDepartment of Journalism, La Trobe University

Summary

The relationship between journalism and public relations in the 21st century has been mostly marked by tension, at least publicly. Many journalists’ accounts of public relations portray it as “the dark side” and characterize public relations practitioners as purveyors of “spin.” However, extensive research examining the input of public relations practitioners into the news has found that the products of their work—such as media releases or media conferences—are crucial in facilitating the news cycle. As one of the classic studies of news production identified, “News is, after all, not what journalists think, but what their sources say.” Decades of research have established that news sources are often likely to be public relations practitioners, with anywhere between 40% and 75% of news originating from public relations practitioners or the products of their work. Public relations is, therefore, critical to the work of journalism; however, journalists often deny this as part of publicly upholding the standards of their profession and building and maintaining boundaries of control over their work.

However, the symbiotic relationship that formed the basis of news production in the 20th century is being upended in the 21st century as organizations become their own media producers. This means the lines continue to blur between journalism and public relations, both for individuals working across once clear occupational and professional boundary lines and for organizations adopting the functions of both.

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