Once upon a time, and like most journalists, I thought public relations was the way organisations fed stories to newspapers. For the seven or eight years I have been studying and teaching PR, I have been developing an ever-widening and deepening view of the discipline in which media relations seems to play an increasingly peripheral role. But now I am delighted to have been asked to write a book chapter on media relations and am trying to rethink its role in today's communications landscape.
As part of this process, two blog posts have caught my attention. Today, Heather Brooke has launched a scathing attack on the way West Midlands police handled legitimate journalistic inquiries about the decision to set up CCTV cameras in predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham:
"PR exists for control purposes, to hinder, rather than to inform, and this is a fine example.
"Public officials also often complain about the irresponsibility of the press. Yet here we see a responsible reporter who writes stories based on facts and in the public interest being frozen out of a press conference precisely because of the strength of his journalism, by a police force already accused of misleading the public with false information."
Less dramatically, but perhaps more instructively, The Guardian's Robert McCrum claims to have glimpsed the malaise that lingers at the heart of the bookseller, Waterstone's. An apparently rather clumsy response to an interview request led McCrum to conclude that Waterstone's is held back "by a sclerotic management structure". An organisation that won't let a manager chat to a reporter about a bestseller is revealed as monolithic, crippled by top-down paranoia; interestingly, a counterview swiftly emerges from a very lively comments debate - 54 intelligent contributions in three days. Some bemoan the corporate culture of Waterstone's but many others suggest that as journalists are so untrustworthy, a cautious 'no comment' is completely justified.
What importance do you think media relations should command in the wider PR mix? Looking along my bookshelf, it seems that many PR academics regard the subject as a rather dull, perhaps worth a mention in an overview of 'tactics' but hardly meriting serious study...