From Cicero to Absolute Power, PR has long been described as a manipulator of truth – practitioners are masters of the silver tongue, concealers of the facts, but this caricature belongs to a time where professional journalists held the power and searched for the truth. Today things have changed and we are in the era of the amateur blogger and worse, the opinionated layman who starts his Tweet with ‘IMO’. In a world with Twitter everyone has a voice, the reaction to the revamp of Top Gear is a perfect example of this – I read a national newspaper headline stating ‘Top Gear labeled boring’, which to be fair it had been – by one guy on Twitter with fewer than 50 followers. Communications professionals now spend the majority of their time trying to get facts out there rather than concealing them.
The problem is that journalism, the fourth estate, is a serious occupation which involves a huge amount of responsibility and professionalism. Journalism, good journalism, is patently not merely opinion. The efforts of low-rent ‘journalists’ are in danger of detracting from the work of highly-skilled professionals who still care about the journalistic art. This can be seen no more clearly than in the outpouring of outrage at perceived slights or wrongdoings. Take the example of Cecil the lion; he was a handsome, well known lion given a human name (which I can only assume he was completely unaware of) and he was shot by an American with alarmingly white teeth. Now, I am passionate about the conservation of lions (in fact should you wish you can sponsor my walk which is raising money for LionAid) but if you are going to shoot a lion, because you are a big strong man, then in reality Cecil was a pretty good one to shoot. He was extremely old for a lion and had sired numerous litters; ironically he was able to live to such an age as many of the younger lions in the area that would have challenged and eventually killed him had been shot by hunters – these lions were not mourned on social media.
I am delighted that the world is outraged by the senseless slaughter of a majestic, sentient animal but wouldn’t it be great if this was driven towards action by facts. Powerful fact-based coverage of these tragic events, and there are countless other examples, can lead us towards real change but we need real journalists to take us on the journey. One ‘news’ site started its (incorrect) story on the death of Cecil’s brother with ‘Cecil the lion’s brother Jericho, who is also a lion…’ – surely we can do better than this? Journalists, do your research, talk to PRs, then tell your story and have an impact.