Posts Tagged ‘journalism’

Citizen Journalism: friend or foe in public relations?

It is well-known that journalists and public relations practitioners have a love-hate relationship.  They need each other to survive in the cut-throat world they work in, yet neither is willing to openly acknowledge this and instead go on pretending they are adversaries.  But what happens if we throw a new player into the game?  Or more accurately, players.

With the lessening of the digital divide, citizen journalism is reaching new heights.  Differing from conventional journalism, citizen journalism is providing the public with an alternative.  The public has gained access to the communication tools of the 21st century and has promptly altered the traditional, dated mass media outlets as we know them.  As opposed to this traditional mass media, where it is held that journalists should report on what people need to know rather than what they want to know, citizen journalism is by the people for the people.

The relationship between public relations practitioners and journalists is based on the public relations practitioner feeding the journalist information about an organisation or event for a story, and in return the journalist gives them media exposure.

So with an understanding of the traditional relationship between media and public relations and an understanding of what is citizen journalism, naturally the question arises – is citizen journalism a friend or foe in public relations?

Friend? The beauty of citizen journalism, is that people can comment on and discuss issues that matter to them.  This provides a great insight to public relations practitioners trying to gauge the feelings and perceptions of their target publics

Citizen journalists also have the inclination to cover themes and places often ignored or forgotten by mainstream media.  This is called hyperlocal coverage.  Once again a benefit for organisations trying to reach narrowly defined target publics.

In addition, citizen journalism is often described as a watchdog for journalists.  They report either the other side of the story or the inaccuracies presented in the media.  This is a fantastic tool for public relations to tap into to ensure their publics are getting the full story and not just what the media sees fit to report.

Foe?  On the flip-side of the above arguments, there is of course a negative.  Although comment and discussion is enabled, the reporting can be fragmented and inconclusive.  This could mean that a message is either missed, misunderstood or lost in cyberspace and therefore of no benefit whatsoever to public relations as no-one is going to receive the message. Also, as a watchdog, citizen journalism can work against an organisation even when, or perhaps particularly when, traditional media are in support. 

Pacific Brands found this out the hard way when they were slammed in numerous blogs over cutting jobs in Australia and moving manufacturung overseas.  Whilst the organisation’s public relations practitioners worked over time to try and project key messages and mitigate negative publicity, citizen journalists all over Australia were writing about the realities of the organisation’s move.  In this case citizen journalists and traditional media were united and no stone was left unturned as they lashed out at the organisation.  Was it warrented?  Were there strategies that could have been implemented to lessen the attacks?  Maybe.  Maybe the organisation should have been more proactive and used citizen journalism to aid their cause.  I’m not sure that it would have been effective, but it’s a thought…

Perhaps it is not as easy as classifying citizen journalism as either a friend or foe.  Perhaps there is more to it than that.  Perhaps, as Dr Axel Bruns suggests,  citizen journalism can enhance traditional journalism – not replace it.  As such should public relations take advantage of both mediums?  Should it exploit the diversity of citizen journalism as deliberative journalism with hyperlocal coverage?  And also still rely on traditional journalism to get the organisation in the view of the general public?  I think so.  I believe that there is a happy medium and public relations stands to benefit greatly from both.  It’s all about knowing who the publics are and where they source their news from.  Once that’s sorted, the rest is up to them anyway!