PR: the way forward for news?

20 June 2012

Written by: Catherine Falalis

Have you ever sat in front of the television around 6:30pm on a weeknight, watching A Current Affair (ACA) or Today Tonight, only to notice that amidst the stories about neighbourhood disputes, most of what you are watching is about new products, various brands or regimes to better your quality of life?

If the answer is no, it may be because we are becoming increasingly accustomed to news stories derived from public relations (PR) sources, or staged corporate events.

Take Apple for example, renowned for its pseudo-events. The Apple PR team shape product launches to be newsworthy events and receive free coverage in the media. And journalists are often seen applauding in the crowd at the launch of the latest i-something and the news stories that follow reflect their enthusiasm.

Apple is renowned for its staged events (Source: Marlith)

After the recent Apple Worldwide Developers Conference, The Age ran several news stories on its website announcing new Apple products. Even the ABC’s website couldn’t help itself.

The success of Apple’s ability to get into the news cycle will mean the prevalence of PR in the Australian media will only continue to increase.

In February of this year, ACA did a story on the upgrade of Woolworths’ phone app. The actual app was initially launched on ACA the previous year, and indicates an ongoing relationship. The story was hardly news and used phrases that described the app as a ‘supermarket breakthrough’ allowing customers to shop ‘with the simple push of a button.’

Tim Burrowes, editor-in-chief for media, marketing and entertainment website Mumbrella, believes there’s a place for PR in our news, given the lack of resources journalists face these days.

‘In a perfect world, every publication would still be much better resourced,’ says Burrowes. ‘So that more of the content that we read is of much higher quality. However, the reality is different.’

‘One of the reasons why the media is reporting on Apple for instance, is because the traffic for stories that Apple get. Readers want to read them,’ says Burrowes. ‘Even if it’s a highly staged corporate event, you’re going to get traffic from it. Then it’s a very tough decision not to go and cover it.’

Burrowes admits to receiving hundreds of press releases a week, and says his job is to choose the ones that will make a story that his readers will be interested in.

‘Any time you send a press release it’s because you want to tell the audience about something you’ve done or a product you’ve got,’ explains Burrowes. ‘And the journalists job is to filter and act as a gatekeeper on behalf of their reader to only share the stuff they think their reader will be interested in.’

While there might be a place for it within our media, some argue that this type of reporting is a form of ‘lazy’ journalism. But Burrowes does not accept this view, saying that it is more a reflection of ‘journalists and publications trying to cover more ground because they have less resources than they had before’.

And the shrinking resources in journalism will mean that issues will not get the same scrutiny they once did, thinks Burrowes.

‘I’m not sure if that counts necessarily as “lazy” journalism. But certainly it means that it is very different journalism to how it once was.’

If this trend continues, then perhaps a punchy PR team and resource-starved, time-poor journalists will soon become the foundation, and the norm, for what we classify as ‘news’.

Catherine Falalis is a second-year Bachelor of Journalism student at La Trobe. You can follow her on Twitter on @cat_falalis