I am only too aware of the fact that, for many in the PR industry, the castration and lobotomy of journalism would be seen as a blessing, even a triumph. For me, it would be an insurmountable tragedy. High quality, traditional journalism will always hold an important place, at least for the foreseeable future.
The death of print journalism in its current form is a fact – the industry is in freefall. This continuous groundswell, augmented by the firestorm of Leveson, has turned the public – by and large – furiously against the journalistic profession. As the prevalence and standing of conventional print media declines, the PR industry will necessarily morph over years and decades into a hybrid beast, incorporating networking, influencing and social media as its key tenets.
What’s more, it is unquestionable that there is a lot of shoddy journalism around today. Perhaps there always was, but if that’s the case it was considerably harder for its practitioners to make much headway. They simply didn’t have the hard-bitten skills you needed to find the stories and get the facts in the hard old days. Google and Wikipedia have many plus points, but much of their notoriety as lowest common denominator research tools is justified.
Media of all kinds are almost by definition dominated by curiosity and novelty, with timeframes set by miniscule attention spans. Yet despite the undoubted importance of considering what’s next, we mustn’t forget the importance of what is, what we have already. Training and development work by the likes of the Journalism Foundation is sorely needed to sustain this tradition: its functions in the contemporary media are manifold.
In many parts of the world where internet penetration is limited, or facts are open to manipulation, high quality national and international print is still the most valuable source of information. The value of newswire correspondents has never been in question, but sustaining such characters in a world which increasingly overlooks traditional journalistic practices is a challenge.
From my professional perspective, no amount of saccharine, tame coverage can beat the engagement and story value brought by a great independent journalist getting behind you. A journalist willing to blandly spew out whatever a PR tells them may bring column inches for the client, but their copy won’t generate actual conversation. A fantastic journalist who gets truly excited by the recommendation of a trusted publicist will be the one to make or break a meme.
Aside from anything else, those with dedication to fact and authenticity – and the training to pursue it – will always be needed as mediators. Even in a world dominated by the chattering of the masses, someone needs to be present to sift through the torrent of useless information to find the nuggets of value.
The Journalism Foundation is doing vital work in ensuring that, in the last of the newspaper, the younger generation can be found and trained, ready to carry journalism through what will be its most tumultuous era ever.
Mark Borkowski is a publicist, media commentator and CEO of Borkowski PR