Journalists and PR: an early perspective

Today I read a blog post by Stuart Bruce about how effective journalists are when they switch to public relations.

In response to the recent story about John Simpson’s corporate consultancy website, Stuart makes the point that journalists “are unlikely to be able to do is jump straight in to the most senior public relations roles as no matter how stellar their journalistic credentials might be”.

I broadly agree, though I do wonder if, despite the importance of public relations training, we can sometimes underestimate the ability of a journalist with lots of common sense to do our jobs effectively.

But following Stuart’s post, I was inspired to look back at what Basil Clarke, probably the first UK journalist to do public relations for a living, had to say about the skills you need to be successful.

In a 1929 lecture (some 12 years after he made the switch), Clarke set out the qualities required of a new recruit:

“He must be an expert in news-value – in finding news, preparing it in different journalistic forms to secure the best and widest Press reflex for it, also in distributing it to best advantage. He must be expert in news treatment, also the capacity to impart to a cold static fact some warm and dynamic news quality,a ‘time’ factor, an ‘authority’ factor, a ‘human interest’ factor, and all the other factors that go to the make-up of news-value…

“I do think, however, that the duties of a press agent who is directing or advising in the public relations of a big undertaking or movement demand something more than ordinary journalistic qualifications. They demand a knowledge of men and affairs more comparable with an editor’s knowledge; a certain aptitude for, and knowledge of, business and administration which a journalist need not necessarily possess.”

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