Tuesday 1 March 2011

Sambrook on churnalism: 'Not all PR is toxic'

Richard Sambrook, the former BBC news chief turned PR executive at Edelman, has posted on the churnalism debate - arguing not all PR is bad and suggesting many news organisations have hidden agendas.

Sambrook, writing about the new churnalism detecting website Churnalism.com , launched by the Media Standards Trust, says: "As an exercise by the Trust to support the independence of news and highlight lazy journalism it is entirely a Good Thing. That it has a use at all is a reflection of the shrinking of staff and resources in newsrooms and the growth of PR.

"However, it does encourage a dated view of PR as a Bad Thing – that PR and press releases must be a toxic influence on the pure well of journalism. The truth is rather different. There is of course Good PR and Bad PR just as there is Good Journalism and Bad Journalism. So far so obvious.

"Good PR is less about spin and cover ups and more about advocacy and transparency- from which some news organisations could learn. I’m asked by old colleagues, 'So what terrible deeds have you had to cover up then?'. The truth of course is that 'covering-up' or deceit is the worst advice to offer anyone, with a high probablilty of discovery and consequent reputational damage proven time and again."

Sambrook adds: "There may be criticism that corporate content is unlikely to to be critical of its parent – the same is also true of most news organisations.

"You will look long and hard to find much coverage of the phone hacking scandal in any News International paper. Or many pro-European Union stories in the Daily Mail. Those reporters are not paid to write those stories. Equally, Fox News will not offer much criticism of the Republicans, Al Jazeera is unlikely to report negatively about Qatar or Russia Today to investigate corruption in Russian politics. They all have positions and agendas – often far from openly declared."

He ends: "If Churnalism.com helps identify what can be trusted, let’s people better understand what they are reading, and makes news organisations reflect on their own (lack of) transparency, good luck to it."

Via Gordon MacMillan on Twitter

1 comment:

Jonathan Welsh said...

Sambrook makes a good point. The view of 'PR is bad' is dated, it's rather like the way people are described as a 'PR' in a flippant or derogatory way; as if their job is somehow unimportant. Public Relations is about reputation management and organisations have the right to manage those reputations; and to do so is a skill. A good journalist should be able to work with reputation managers as a viable source and, of course, check this source. If 'churnalism' is about a dirth of quality content then this isn't the fault of public relations practitioners; it's the fault of organisations who ultimately publish the content.