Are Journalists being replaced by PR executives?

A STUDY has tracked the number of people working in journalism in the USA since 1980 and compared it to the numbers for public relations.

There’s been a sea-change in the American media industry it seems. And it is being echoed here in the UK.

Using data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the study found that the number of journalists has fallen drastically while public relations people have multiplied at an even faster rate.

In 1980, there were about .45 PR workers per 100,000 population compared with .36 journalists. In 2008, there were .90 PR people per 100,000 compared to .25 journalists. That’s a ratio of more than three-to-one.

The argument goes that PR professionals are, in the 21st Century, better equipped and better financed than their journalist counterparts.

OK, so as the recession bites, even those in the gilded halls of PR are having to examine more closely their overheads and staffing costs but, in comparison to the beleaguered newspaper industry, we’ve still got it pretty good.

Here’s the outcome of the shifting power battle though. Less advertising revenue means fewer journalists for all newspapers. And the gaps are being filled by press-release-touting PR executives.

That means the nature of news is slowly, stealthily changing. We are seeing more survey stories than ever, brands are suddenly finding they are also trusted news sources in 2011.

The journalist will take stories from any source as long as they are reliable and newsworthy. So PR agencies are employing more former journalists who, with an intrinsic feel for what makes news, are now operating as a new breed of broker between clients and the under-pressure news-desks.

News media still has the opportunity to show-off its real news credentials when the truly big stories break, of course. Take the Osama Bin Laden raid just this week. It was a news-desk’s dream story and, when these global events do land on the agenda, you can sense there is still a place for the hardened hack, unabowed by the commercial pressure of a paying client desperate to get a decent foothold in the marketplace, to shine.

But the industry is clearly shifting. As is our understanding of what makes ‘news’. It will be interesting to see what lies down the road say, in 10 years time and examine the news agendas of 2021.

I’d hazard a guess that a much bigger slice of the daily news agenda will be conceived and delivered by PR professionals than ever before.

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