There are more public relations professionals and fewer journalists than ever before—a fact that ProPublica
(and the Columbia Journalism Review
) believes could be dangerous.
On Monday, they co-published an article titled “PR Industry Fills Vacuum Left by Shrinking Newsrooms.” In it, writer John Sullivan bemoans the decline of journalism in numbers, and posits the following:
“As PR becomes ascendant, private and government interests become more able to generate, filter, distort, and dominate the public debate, and to do so without the public knowing it.”
Sullivan takes an exhaustive look at public relations’ infusion into the mainstream media—from its roots to the digital age. At the heart of the story is the simple truth that with far fewer journalists being asked to produce roughly the same amount of work, there’s opportunity like never before for PR pros to push their message through.
He cited data data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics that shows the number of journalists is falling, while the ranks of PR pros has increased drastically. According to Sullivan:
“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, better equipped, better financed.”
Among Sullivan’s many sources is Leonard Downie Jr., a former executive editor of The Washington Post
and current VP at large for the paper.
“Observing our own newsroom” at the Post
, “I don't see a difference in the way people are working,” Downie tells ProPublica. “In addition to talking to PR people, both in government and in business, our reporters want to talk to principals all the time. I don't see a change in that relationship.”
Though the Post
may be able to avoid this type of PR infiltration, it hasn’t been so simple in other news organizations. It’s entirely common today to see press releases simply reprinted as news.