PR prof: It’s ironic to read journalists complain about PR

This week, ProPublic and Columbia Journalism Review co-published a story on the rise of PR. We asked Tim Penning, PhD, an associate professor of communications, to respond.

It was nice to see, for example, a mention of Ivy Lee, instead of the usual easy target of Edward Bernays, long vilified as the “father of spin” because of his association with propaganda.

When articles on PR delve into the past, I wish they would pay some attention to Arthur Page, who was vice president of public relations at AT&T in 1927, and whose legacy of ethical PR as a management counseling function continues today at the Arthur W. Page Society.

However, I do take issue with the article’s assertion that PR people “outnumber” journalists in the sense that not all PR people do media relations and publicity exclusively. The field is much broader and, as the article points out, often involves events and other direct communication with key audiences.

It’s also important to recognize that while some PR professionals may misinform the public, this is not the standard or accepted practice.

Like any profession, PR has its bad practitioners. But more often than not, particularly in politics, “spin” is perpetuated by people who do not have a degree in PR, and are not members of PRSA and aware of its ethics code, and therefore should not be considered exemplary of PR as commonly practiced.

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