Journalism and Public Relations Compared

The difference between the work of a news journalist and a PR professional

Journalism and PR might be seen as two sides of the same coin. One side has news it wants to get out and the other side needs news to cover. It can be a symbiotic relationship.

What does a journalist do?
The main intention of those working in the journalism profession is to provide their readers and audiences with accurate, reliable information they need to function in society.

There are many different jobs in journalism. For instance, a news journalist might be involved with:

Researching stories. Newspaper, magazine and web stories require research before writing. All writers have to conduct research and gather information before they can start writing. Journalists use three tools to gather information for stories: observation, interview and background research.

Writing hard news and feature stories. Hard news stories are short, very timely and focus on telling you what's just happened starting with the most important thing first. Feature stories, on the other hand, are not as timely, yet need a topical news peg (raison d'etre or reason for existence). Newspaper and Web features, and magazine articles, are more in-depth and less rigidly structured. They might be interviews, travel reports, how-to articles, profiles, tear jerkers, etc.    How to write a feature story »

Shooting photographs and video. Photojournalists in print and on the air use their still and moving images to tell a story with very few words. Multitasking is more and more a part of life in media, which makes photography a useful skill for writers to have.

Editing stories. Editors prepare and improve the work of other people. They correct grammar errors and straighten out organizational issues. They write headlines and make sure the publication has a consistent style. At many publications, copy editors are an endangered species and journalists are expected to get it right the first time with no safety net.    How to write headlines »

Checking facts. Newspapers rarely employ people to check facts in articles. Magazines still do check facts, but it's becoming less common.

Planning issues. Editors are responsible for all the content in a newspaper, magazine or website. As journalists advance upward in job responsibility, they do less actual writing and more planning and management of other writers, editors and designers.

Laying out pages. Editors design and lay out pages mixing copy written by reporters with photos shot by photographers and other art. At smaller papers, reporters sometimes lay out pages in addition to writing the copy for them and shooting the photos for them. Magazine editors, on the other hand, usually have an art department to design pages. Whoever designs it, layout is accomplished using software such as Quark XPress and Adobe InDesign. Ability to use those programs is a valuable skill for a journalist.

What does a public relations professional do?
The work products from public relations professionals are intended to influence public opinion and are designed to promote and protect an individual or organization's image and products.

There are many jobs in public relations, including publicity, event management and publication design: A PR professional's job might involve:

Press releases. One way the publicity goal is accomplished is by sending press releases to newspaper, magazine and Web journalists. A press release contains information needed by a journalist to write a positive story about the PR professional's client. The public relations specialist must know how to write, edit and photograph information for release to the press. The professional must have the skills of a journalist and a photojournalist, and understand how editors and producers work.

The public relations professional crafts a compelling news story designed to gain a reporter's attention. Newspapers, magazines, radio and TV stations, channels and networks, and news websites always are on the lookout for fresh story ideas. The goal of a press release is to fulfill a journalist's need for news while enhancing the client's public image. The press release clarifies why the client's product, service or history is important.

Making contacts. PR professionals cultivate relationships with journalists. They research who might write about the client's interests. Then they contact those journalists to discover the types of stories being sought. They also determine how journalists like to receive story pitches. A journalist is more likely to pay attention to a press release that's timely, from a known source and targeted to the journalist's need. Publicity efforts also include email, messaging, telephone calls, visits and meals.

Media kits. Public relations professionals create press kits or media kits. Journalists often request press kits as a follow-up to a news story release that interests them. The kit contains information the journalist needs to understand what the client does. That might include: Interview prep. People who work in PR are regarded as experts in media relations. Often they are asked to train other employees on how to communicate in interviews.

Press conferences. A PR department frequently is responsible for organizing press conferences to reach many print, broadcast and Web media all at once. Of course, not all news merits a conference, so there must be more to a conference than just reading a release. Journalists will attend a press conference only if it promises to announce a timely event and includes interesting visuals, expert presenters and important officials.

VNRs. PR professionals use video news releases and Web press conferences to reach out to more journalists, save money and improve the chances that journalists will take part. A video hook-up allows local broadcast journalists at one place to interview a PR client who is somewhere else. Web press conferences use conferencing software to stream a video presentation online in real time.

Crisis management. Public relations professionals manage crises. An old adage says, "All publicity is good publicity." However, really bad press can tarnish the image of a business, corporation, agency or institution. A public opinion survey in 2007 discovered that 15 percent of consumers said they never again would purchase a recalled brand. PR professionals create crisis management plans as best they can in advance to be able to respond proactively if damaging news breaks.
What is public relations? »

Resources for Courses »

© 2011 Dr. Anthony Curtis, Mass Communication Dept., University of North Carolina at Pembroke    910.521.6616    e-mail    home page
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