Any comments to a recent post, Andrew Gelman brought up a point that I want to dig into a bit more, at least briefly, the connection between the decline of journalism and the rise of public relations.
Here's my take: there is clearly a powerful relationship here though the direction of causality gets a bit complicated and goes both ways. For a variety of reasons, including but not limited to downsizing, an increasingly insular culture, and a shift to a star system that serves to hollow out the middle of the profession, journalism became both less diligent about maintaining quality and hungrier for free content (an appetite greatly expanded by online forums). While things changes were happening, companies were also growing more experienced at measuring and manipulating public opinion.
The decline in journalism created an extraordinary opportunity for corporate PR departments. News stories that portrayed products and companies in a favorable light were both more persuasive than traditional advertising and considerably cheaper.
While we are on the subject, my biggest concerns about the role of PR in modern journalism are not the question of accuracy or bias, though both of those are important. What really concerns me is the way these outside influences determine what does and does not get covered and the lack of awareness (or at least acknowledgement) on the part of the press. More on that coming later.