We had a good thing going: The death of the PR-Journalism relationship

Be helpful! Share this article!

By Darren Johnson
Campus News

Hey, PR flack — I thought we had a good thing going. You respected me, I disrespected you. It was what great relationships are made of.

But someone changed your mind about me, the journalist. I don’t know who you’ve been talking to — maybe some kook who tweets “fake news” at 2 a.m. — maybe you’re cheating on me. 

Maybe you no longer are attracted to me, the newspaper person. Maybe social media is prettier. Maybe this promises you a better future.

But we did have a good thing going once. You fed me press releases, which I mostly ignored. You called me sweetly, and I’d let it go to voicemail. But then I’d learn you had a big event happening, or something fun going on — and I would respond to that, and you’d roll out the red carpet for me, give me comp VIP tickets, smile and shake my hand as I rushed by you to the free hors d’oeuvres. I’d get to pretend I was someone important, write a mere mention, stick it on page B37, and you’d be elated over that. You’d clip out the piece, put it in your scrapbook, show all your friends.

But something changed.

Recently, I couldn’t even get press passes for Disneyland — freakin’ Disneyland! These are normally just $97 and should be an easy get for a newspaper person. I mean, the space in the paper is worth thousands. Maybe I could write more than a mere mention. Maybe write a whole story. I tried to tell you this, but now you’re seeing someone else, dear PR Flack.

We went to the park anyway, and who did we see around every corner — vloggers. You know, those annoying narcissists who jibber-jabber while walking and staring into a video camera or smartphone. One almost walked into a wooden Indian. I listened in on what they were saying — they enjoyed the churros, the Dumbo ride. Great. Nary a negative word. (Us journalists can be negative at times — sorry!)

You know, dear PR flack, these people aren’t journalists. You bought them with your comp tickets. They are easily impressed. Who knows if they have real followers? Most don’t. But some vlogger who paid for 100,000 bots may seem more impressive to you, dear flack, than a real newspaper with smaller numbers (but all of the readers are real).

And, dear PR flack, you used to send me items to review for my annual holiday gift guide. Great stuff — laptops, smart phones, you name it. But now you send these items to vloggers. You call it “gifting” now. All integrity is lost.

Now, you may buy into this current hatred of traditional media, as some people seem to now have, and you may say, “Where is your integrity accepting these comps?”

And this can be a fair point, but I’ve also spent time as a PR person and would offer comps to real journalists for the following reasons:

  • A journalist can only write about something he/she physically experiences.
  • A journalist doesn’t earn a lot of money and shouldn’t pay for a story, anyway.
  • The comp allows the PR person and journalist to connect and have a relationship.

You see, it’s all kosher.

But you, dear PR flack, are ending it. It’s not you, it’s me. I get it. I don’t have the flashy analytics of some insipid, blow-dried self-promoter smiling dumbly into his smartphone. The vlogger is trendy — an influencer, as they proclaim — while I’m just a ham-and-egger.

It was good while it lasted. Maybe you’ll be back someday. You can send me your heartfelt words and leave passionate calls on my voicemail … and I can hit delete, delete, delete.

It can be like old times.


Darren Johnson has spent equal parts of his adult life in journalism and public relations. Have a story idea? Send it to darren@cccn.us