Is media relations all there is to public relations?
Differences in perceptions between public relations and journalism educators
Thomasena Shaw, Ph.D.
330 Communications Building
College of Communication and Information Science
University of Tennessee
Telephone: (865) 974
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Candace White, Ph.D.
330 Communications Building
College of Communication and Information Science
University of Tennessee
Telephone: (865) 974-5112
E-mail: [log in to unmask]
Running head: Perceptions of media relations
Address inquiries to: First author
This study explores whether journalism and public relations programs belong
in the same academic department, and if academic programs may be in part
responsible for perpetuating myths and stereotypes and contributing to
negative perceptions of the public relations profession.
A web-based survey was sent to 768 journalism and public relations
educators. The study found that journalism educators do not differ as
substantially and negatively in their opinions of public relations as the
literature may suggest.
Is media relations all there is to public relations?
Differences in perceptions between public relations and journalism educators
This study looks at an unfortunate phenomenon, the less than harmonious
relationship between journalists and public relations practitioners. It
asks the hard question: do journalism and public relations programs belong
in the same academic department? It also considers that academic programs
may be in part responsible for perpetuating myths and stereotypes and
contributing to negative perceptions of the public relations profession.
The thesis of the study is that much of the misunderstanding that
journalists and journalism professors exhibit toward public relations is
based primarily on media relations. Media relations is like the tip of an
iceberg – the most visible part, but certainly not all there is. Public
relations educators and practitioners understand that while media relations
is an important function of public relations, it is only on tactical
function, a small part of strategic public relations.
A widely-accepted definition of public relations as a strategic
communication function is "…the management function that establishes and
maintains mutually beneficial relationships between an organization and the
publics on whom its success or failure depends" (Cutlip, Center and Broom,
1994). However, the effective public relations efforts that result in
maintaining good relationships with all constituents are not always visible
to people outside the organization. They often do not rely at all on media
relations, don't make the newspaper, and therefore are not incorporated
into popular perceptions and definitions of public relations.
Despite its strategic management role, public relations is still considered
by many, particularly journalists, as just another name for publicity. Part
of the reason for the misperception is that public relations as a strategic
business function has evolved rapidly, particularly in the last decade, and
perception almost always lags behind reality. Another reason is that the
public relations profession evolved from publicity where publicists' task
was to build name recognition and attract media attention (Cutlip, Center
and Broom, 1994; Kitchen, 1997). But the fact remains that since media
relations is often the only public relations function with which a
journalist has any personal contact, it is logical that to most
journalists, media relations is public relations.
Journalists' perception of how media relations is handled defines their
perception of the entire profession. Many of the public relations
practitioners with whom journalists have contact are in technician roles;
many may be former journalists with no true public relations training or
education. Thus, a common stereotype is that all public relations
practitioners are for-hire communication technicians whose aim is to get
media coverage for their organizations at any cost.
Despite practitioners' efforts to improve their industry and the quality of
material they release, some journalists continue to harbor suspicions about
them. A number of researchers claim that this supports the view that
prejudice against public relations is not simply due to negative personal
experiences with practitioners themselves, but rather it is rooted in
journalism culture. In light of this claim and given that public relations
curricula often operate in conjunction with journalism schools, this study
explores public relations and journalism educators' attitudes towards
public relations in more detail.
The purpose of this study is to test these assumptions using a survey of
journalism and public relations educators, and make recommendations that
may improve future relationships in the academy and in the profession.
The review of the literature indicates that an antagonistic and symbiotic
relationship has traditionally existed between journalists and public
relations practitioners. Not surprisingly, most of the research about
journalists/public relations interaction focuses on media relations. Of
all of the tactics available to the public relations practitioner, the news
release remains the bedrock of public relations efforts (Minnis and Pratt,
1995; Sachsman 1976), and media relations continues to form a significant
proportion of most public relations programs (Sheldon Greene, 1994; Wragg,
1992; and Grabowski, 1992). Schleuse estimated that in 1988, American
practitioners distributed up to 2.4 million releases every week.
The role of media relations.
Many agree that media relations is central to the practice of effective
public relations and a key part of many public relations programs (Grunig
and Hunt, 1987). Good media coverage can improve stakeholders' confidence
based on the power of objective third party endorsement. Indeed, creating
publicity and the use of news releases remain popular tactics used to
achieve public relations objectives. Perhaps this is why publicity and
public relations are perceived as being synonymous.
Moore (1996) indicated that positive relationships with journalists can
improve publication chances, and that not being open with this group only
serves to court hostility and suspicion and is ultimately futile because
the press will get the story anyway. Blohowiak (1987) argues that
journalism is a tough job, and given the scarcity of economic and other
resources available, practitioners should be willing to provide efficient
and practical assistance to the media whenever possible.
The nature of the journalist/public relations practitioner relationship.
Fedler and DeLorme (2002) documented the historical roots of journalists'
hostility toward public relations by examining biographical materials and
articles written by and about journalists during the first half of the
twentieth century. Their analysis found an attitude of
contempt. Journalists believed that public relations practitioners faked
stunts to get free publicity, made it difficult for journalist to report
legitimate stories, and violated the basic rules of news writing. All of
these are components of media relations. Interestingly, a significant
number of these anecdotal findings were reinforced in subsequent empirical
studies, which would support Ryan and Martinson's (1984) observation that
an antagonistic relationship between journalists and practitioners has
existed almost as long as both professions have.
Aronoff (1975) found that while many journalists saw public relations as
an important part of the process of getting news to the public, they also
associated it with unacceptable practices. He found that Texas journalists'
attitudes towards the profession differed substantially and negatively from
the attitudes held by practitioners towards themselves. His survey
indicated that journalists viewed public relations practitioners as low in
source credibility, attributed news values to practitioners that were
directly opposite to those of journalists, and held practitioners in low
Jeffers (1977) borrowed themes from Aronoff's work and attempted to
determine attitudes and expectations of journalists and public relations
practitioners toward one another. He found that journalists did not have
great respect for public relations practitioners, viewing them as
"obstructionists" who prevent journalists from obtaining the truth.
Pomerantz (1989) also argued that some public relations practitioners
regularly hinder media access to clients, often propose inappropriate story
ideas that reflect their ignorance of editorial content, and generally
harass journalists with unnecessary phone calls.
Journalists also considered themselves superior to practitioners in
status, ethical, and skill terms. However, Jeffers (1977) also noted that
the relationship could be considered a "co-operative" one, although public
relations practitioners believed this to a greater extent than journalists.
Interestingly, many journalists viewed practitioners they had regular
contact with as status equals.
Kopenhaver, Martinson and Ryan (1984) concluded that a sample of Florida
editors viewed public relations much more negatively than a sample of
practitioners did. However, the two groups were in agreement about news
values. Beltz, Talbott and Stark (1984) found that both groups perceived
journalists in fairly traditional terms. However, journalists and
practitioners differed sharply over their patterns of perception of the
public relations role, and practitioners believed their relationships with
journalists to be more positive than those relationships actually were.
This leads to the first research question: Is there a difference between
how journalism and public relations educators view media relations?
The role of ethics and perceptions of professionalism.
An important theme that emerges in the literature is that the tension is,
to some degree, rooted in concerns over the ethics and professionalism of
public relations practitioners. Journalists perceived the role of public
relations as involving tendencies in the areas of ethical compromise,
hidden agendas, aggressiveness, advocacy and withholding information. They
also differed on issues of accuracy, honesty, objectivity, fairness and the
inviolability of one's own conscience (Beltz, Talbott and Stark,
1984). Ryan and Martinson (1985) found that practitioners are criticized
for their failure to act in the public interest. This view is further
reinforced by anecdotal evidence that suggests that practitioners should
manipulate the media in order to accomplish objectives (Evans, 1987).
While journalism as a discipline and practice focuses on the concept of
objectivity, public relations practitioners are advocates, which may
explain why their relationship has tended to be an adversarial one. This
does not mean that practitioners are not as ethical as journalists, it is
just that their functions are very different. Hunt and Tripok (1993)
summarized the ideological gulf that exists between the two.
While journalists lay out information for the public and let the individual
decide what the information means, public relations practitioners must take
on an amount of advocacy for the organization that will have an effect,
either positive or negative, on that organization's societal image. When
this practice confronts the journalistic ethical ideals, a clash of beliefs
occurs. Practitioners must, therefore, adopt a different standard for
public relations than journalism.
In recent years, both professional organizations and college
curricula have increasingly focused on ethics as a cornerstone of
professionalism. Leeper (1996) noted that while professional organizations
help define ethical public relations and help define practitioners'
responsibility to act in the public interest, those outside the profession,
including the general public and journalists, may not be aware of what
standards for professional conduct exist. The second research question
is: Is there a difference between the two samples regarding perceptions of
the public relations profession?
The nature of the relationship in an educational context.
The literature also presents evidence that some antagonism as well as
cooperation exists between the two professions in an educational setting as
well as in the workplace. Although probably a more extreme perspective,
Falb (1991) provided an interesting quotation from an article by Howard
Ziff, a journalism administrator, who said that he perceived public
relations people as
The natural enemies of journalists, the Lorelei luring them onto the rocks.
…I still believed journalists to be superior beings…that I was offering
public relations students an incomparable opportunity to improve themselves
by rubbing shoulders with their betters.
Another example of how journalism educators perceive public relations is
presented by Cline (1982) who argued that at least some of the negative
attitudes toward public relations stem from the educational process and in
particular, the undergraduate textbooks they have read. Her analysis of
introductory mass communication texts found that most were biased against
the public relations profession, and ignorant of its history and major
issues. For example, one textbook defined public relations as "dangerous"
and claimed that, while publicists don't lie, often
telling half the truth is an integral part of their business, and
stretching the truth is not uncommon. Moreover, they do it in secret; their
work does not carry the unspoken caveat emptor of paid advertising
(Sandman, Rubin and Sachsman, 1976).
Another textbook maintained,
The very term 'public relations counselor' suggests the status-seeking that
led undertakers to call themselves morticians, janitors to call themselves
maintenance engineers, and garbage collectors to call themselves sanitary
hauliers (Brown, Brown and Rivers, 1978).
Such textbooks, argues Cline, can only serve to perpetuate any antagonism
that exists between the two professions. Indeed, if practitioners continue
to allow this propaganda to go unchecked "we must resign ourselves to
another generation which views public relations as less than ethical, less
professional but better paying than journalism." The next research
question is: Has journalists' mistrust of public relations been influenced
by what was learned about the occupation in the academy?
Where does public relations belong in the academy?
The debate regarding whether journalism and other media-related sub-fields
like public relations belong in the same department or school is not
recent. Dickson (2000) believed the growth of advertising and public
relations with journalism education "occurred somewhat by happenstance." In
the 1950s and 1960s the paradigm for communication study led to the
establishment of several university-based academic units of study. In most
cases the new paradigm was grafted onto pre-existing speech or journalism
departments: schools of journalism became schools of journalism and mass
communication (Rogers, 1999).
According to Stacks, Botan and Turk (1999), the 1990s have seen
exceptional growth and change in public relations practice and education,
but while public relations programs are increasingly located in other
disciplines and schools, many are still located in journalism schools.
Gibson (1987) noted that the founding fathers of public relations were
themselves graduates of journalism departments and that is why these two
fields have traditionally been affiliated with one another, even though the
union of journalism and mass communication, and more specifically public
relations, has not always been a happy one.
Many public relations sequences find themselves in a "Mother, may I?"
environment where curriculum and other decisions are made by a
predominantly news-oriented faculty, who fail to see public relations
beyond its media relations function (Walker, 1989). Dickson (2000) argues
that despite progress, public relations as a discipline has traditionally
felt unwelcome in journalism schools, made to feel like "orphans or
outcasts." However, according to Bovet (1992), most journalism schools have
not parted company with public relations because its students have become
"cash cows" for the programs that house them.
Griffiths (1996) argued that fretting about the blurring of distinctions
between journalism and public relations is a waste of time. He argues that
educators should welcome the chance to influence future public relations
practitioners, "without whom it would be difficult if not impossible for
our up-and-coming reporters to penetrate public and private bureaucracies."
The Commission on Public Relations Education issued a report in October
1999, entitled Public Relations Education for the 21st Century: A Port of
Entry, claiming that "public relations has come of age, and with that has
come a critical need for broad-based education that is relevant and
connected to the practice." The Report conceded that since the last
Commission Report was published in 1987, changes in public relations
practice have been "numerous and profound," and Commission members argued
that for a profession to gain its identity it must make the university its
port of entry.
Kruckeberg (1998) claims that public relations education can no longer
afford to be relegated as a subset of journalism and mass communication.
Furthermore, it should not be categorized as "mass media," a subset of
speech/communication, co-opted by the social and behavioral sciences, or
subsumed into business. Rather, the discipline should be examined from its
own perspective in a professional school dedicated to public relations.
These studies lead to the final set of research questions: How are
academic programs in journalism perceived by both samples? How are
academic programs in public relations perceived by both samples? Do
journalism and public relations programs belong in the same academic
Data used for this study were part of a larger study (Shaw, 2002), and were
collected using a Web-based, self-administered survey, circulated to two
groups of respondents – journalism and public relations educators. The
value of Internet surveys for both academic and applied research has become
more widely acknowledged and assessed (Sheehan and Hoy, 1999). The
technique has been lauded for offering the researcher the possibility of
more rapid surveying than traditional techniques, and is more inexpensive
since postage, printing, and/or interviewing costs are virtually eliminated
(Schaefer and Dillman, 1998).
Since there were more journalism educators available for investigation, a
systematic random sample of journalism educators was selected from the
Association for Education in Journalism and Mass Communication's (AEJMC)
Newspaper Division and Radio/Television Division and the Society of
Professional Journalists' (SPJ) Student Chapters. A census of public
relations educators from the Public Relations Division of AEJMC and the
Public Relations Society of America's (PRSA) Educators Academy was used for
the sample. Graduate students and duplicates (members appearing on more
than one list) were removed. This yielded 768 educators, 384 in from the
public relations lists (260 from AEJMC and 124 from PRSA) and 384 from the
journalism educators lists (284 from AEJMC and 100 from SPJ).
The survey was pre-tested with a small sample of faculty and graduate
students to verify the categorical representation, and assess validity and
comprehension. Since personalization is considered to be an important
element in increasing the response rate in mail surveys (Dillman 1978,
1991), persons in the sample were sent a "solicitation e-mail" one week in
advance of the survey to ask their permission to participate. If they
indicated that they do not want to participate, their name was removed from
the sample and replaced with another name. A total of 129 emails were
undeliverable (76 from the journalism educator group and 53 from the public
relations educator group), so the final sample size was 308 journalism
educators and 331 public relations educators.
A five-point Likert Scale was used to measure items in the survey (1 =
strongly disagree and 5 = strongly agree). Some of the statements
replicated or were similar to those used in previous studies that explored
the nature of the journalist/public relations practitioner relationship in
the workplace (Aronoff, 1975; Jeffers, 1977; Kopenhaver, Martinson and
Ryan, 1984). Data were analyzed using SPSS.
The first question on the survey asked respondents to indicate whether they
were a public relations or journalism educator. Responses to this question
were used to divide the sample into the two groups used for subsequent
analysis. The response rate for journalism educators was 30.5 percent (n =
94) and 28.1 percent for public relations educators (n = 93). Of the 187
respondents, 40 percent were female and 60 percent were male. Forty-three
percent were 30-48 years of age, 41 percent were 49-57, and 16 percent were
58-57 years of age. Seventy-seven percent held doctoral degrees, almost 21
percent held masters degrees, and 2.6 per cent held a bachelor's degree.
Three quarters of the total sample reported that public relations is
located in the same unit as journalism in their institution. A chi-square
test run on each of the items in the demographics section found significant
values for one variable - gender (p <.001). However, post hoc analysis
revealed the variable did not have any significant bearing on the survey's
Interestingly, almost 27 percent reported having 6-10 years professional
experience outside an academic setting; 25 percent have 11-20 years; almost
24 percent have 0-5 years; almost 20 percent have 21-30 years; while over 2
percent have more than 30 years. Only 2 percent (n = 4) had no
professional experience outside an academic setting. Neither sample was
found to have significantly more or less professional experience than its
counterpart. This allows the researchers to assume that the attitudes and
perceptions measured in the survey would reasonably apply to perceptions of
practitioners as well as educators since the majority of the sample had
considerable professional experience.
Since we were concerned with differences between two samples (journalism
and public relations educators), multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA)
was used to analyze the research questions that were measured by a group of
questionnaire items (detailed in the tables below). MANOVA can be used to
assess differences between two samples across multiple dependent variables
simultaneously to see if significant differences are found across all
dimensions of the research question. Wilks' lambda was the criterion used
to determine significances differences between the two groups. Based on the
criterion statistic, in some cases one-way analysis of variance (ANOVA) was
applied to individual variables (questionnaire items) to further tease out
differences between the two groups. Independent sample t-tests were used
to answer the research questions that only contained one variable.
RQ 1. Is there a difference between how the two samples (journalism and
public relations educators) view media relations?
Table 1 shows the group of questionnaire items, grounded in the
literature, that were used to measure RQ 1. Questionnaire items and means
for each sample are reported in the table. Journalism and public relations
educators view media relations differently. The Wilks' lambda showed a
significant overall difference between the two samples (F = 9.3, df = 7
(166), p< .001). Looking at each questionnaire item separately using
ANOVA, all items were significant p< .001, except "The press depends on
information provided by public relations practitioners because of
inadequate staffing levels in most newspapers," and "Public relations
practitioners are typically obstructionists, keeping journalists from the
people they need to see."
Table 1 RQ 1 means
Public relations practitioners and the press are partners in the
dissemination of information.*
In covering the organization they represent, public relations practitioners
extend journalists' newsgathering potential.*
The abundance of free and easily available information provided by public
relations practitioners has, on balance, improved the quality of reporting.*
In general public relations threatens the legitimacy of an independent press.*
The press depends on information provided by public relations practitioners
because of inadequate staffing levels in most newspapers.
Public relations practitioners are typically obstructionists, keeping
journalists from the people they need to see.
The journalist/public relations practitioner relationship is generally an
* p< .001
RQ 2. Is there a difference between the two samples regarding perceptions
of the public relations profession?
Journalism and public relations educators also have different perceptions
of the profession of public relations. There was a significant overall
difference between the two samples (F=13.769, df = 6 (166)
p<.001). Interestingly, the only questionnaire item that showed no
significant difference using an ANOVA was "Public relations practitioners
are typically people of good sense, good will, and good moral
character." Table 2 shows the means for both samples.
Table 2 RQ 2 means
Generally speaking, public relations practitioners are not as trustworthy
Public relations practitioners are typically people of good sense, good
will and good moral character.
Public relations practitioners' sole objective is to persuade and control
Public relations practitioners typically adhere to an established code of
Public relations is generally recognized as providing a unique and
essential service to the general public.*
Typically public relations practitioners' primary obligation is to the
client/employer rather than the public interest.*
RQ 3. Has journalists' mistrust of public relations been influenced by
what was learned about the occupation in the academy?
This question was measured with one questionnaire item, "Journalists'
mistrust of public relations has been influenced more by what was learned
about the occupation in the academy, rather than by negative experiences
with individual practitioners." An independent sample t-test found a
difference between the two samples (t = 3.11, df = 174, p< .002). Even
though both samples tended to disagree with the statement, journalism
educators disagreed more. The mean for journalism educators was 2.34 and
for public relations educators, m = 2.83.
RQ 4. How are academic programs in journalism perceived by both
samples? Is there a difference between the two samples?
Table 3 shows the items used to measure these questions. The MANOVA showed
a significant difference between the two samples (F = 15.628, df = 3 (178),
p<.001). Not surprisingly, journalism educators agreed with the positive
statements more than did public relations educators, but neither group
strongly agreed with the statements. The ANOVA showed no significant
difference for the third questionnaire item shown in table 3.
Table 3 RQ 4 means
Journalism programs generally attract students with a more critical
intellect than public relations programs do.*
Journalism students have a keener moral compass than their public relations
Journalism education programs are generally more respected in the academy
than public relations education programs.
* p< .001
RQ 5. How are academic programs in public relations perceived by both
samples? Is there a difference between the two samples?
Table 4 shows the expected results: public relations educators agree more
strongly with the statements about public relations education except the
item, "Public relations education is predominantly concerned with media
relations." While Wilks' lambda showed overall significance between the
two samples (F = 14.725, df = 5 (175), p<.001), there was no significant
difference between the two questionnaire items, "Public relations education
has a strong body of knowledge and skills, based on theory and research,
and "Public relations programs teach students how to become strategic
Table 4 RQ 5 means
Public relations education has a strong body of knowledge and skills, based
on theory and research in the field of public relations.
Public relations programs teach students how to become strategic
Public relations educators emphasize the importance of ethics and
professionalism to their students.*
Public relations education is predominantly concerned with media relations.*
Generally speaking, public relations educators stress the importance of
critical thinking skills and social responsibility to their students.*
* p< .001
RQ 6. Do journalism and public relations programs belong in the same
Although the responses for both samples were in the neutral range, both
public relations and journalism educators believe the two programs belong
in the same department. The means for both groups were nearly identical
(journalism educators, m = 2.61, and public relations educators, m =
2.60), so obviously there was no significant difference between the two
groups (t = -.044, df = 184, p< .977).
The questionnaire item read: "Journalism and public relations do not
belong in the same department." Since on the Likert scale, 1 was strongly
disagree, working through the double negative, there is agreement that they
do belong in the same department. Recall that about three quarters of the
total sample (n = 130) reported that public relations is located in the
same unit as journalism in their institution.
The study found that there are differences between how journalism and
public relations educators view media relations, and the results appear to
reinforce previous findings (Jeffers, 1977; Gieber and Johnson, 1961;
Minnis and Pratt, 1995; Pomerantz, 1989), on the surface at least. However,
the means between the two groups, while statistically significant, were not
greatly different, and tended to be in the same direction.
In some cases, there was agreement between the two groups. Both groups
disagreed that the journalist/public relations practitioner relationship is
generally adversarial. In addition, journalists and public relations
educators both acknowledged that journalists depend on public relations
originated material due to "inadequate staffing levels in most newspapers."
These two findings also reinforce previous studies that found that despite
their differences, journalists and public relations practitioners share a
However, what is perhaps most noteworthy is not how the findings in the
present study are similar to previous studies (Aronoff, 1975; Beltz,
Talbott and Stark, 1984; Kopenhaver Martinson and Ryan, 1984), rather, how
journalism educators' views on media relations do not appear to differ as
"substantially and negatively" from public relations educators' attitudes
as previous literature may have indicated. Indeed, a broader
acknowledgement of the symbiosis that exists between these two samples
seems evident. This is noteworthy because the perception that a wider gulf
exists could be in part responsible for the tenor of the journalism and
public relations relationship, both in the workplace and in the academy.
Indeed, misperceptions and misunderstanding regarding the degree of
negativity or difference of opinion may result in missed opportunities for
collaboration and integration, and/or the possibility of a more cooperative
relationship in the future.
Findings also indicate differences exist between the two samples regarding
the perception of the public relations profession. Differences were found
to exist in relation to a number of questionnaire items including whether
public relations practitioners are not as trustworthy as journalists, and
whether public relations sole objective is to persuade and control
publics. Again it is interesting to note that journalism educators did
disagree with the statements, just not to the extent that public relations
educators disagreed, which is contrary to some previous studies that found
that journalists did not rate their counterparts as equals in ethical or
status terms (Jeffers, 1977; Beltz, Talbott and Stark, 1987), and engaged
primarily in press agentry/publicity (Fedler and DeLorme, 2002).
However, these findings should not be interpreted to mean that journalists
acknowledge the strides toward professionalism made by the public relations
industry. Indeed, journalism and public relations educators differed in
their attitudes as to whether public relations practitioners adhere to an
established code of ethics, and whether public relations provides a unique
and essential service to the general public. Once again, what is noteworthy
about this finding isn't just that they differ, but the fact that
journalism educators disagreed with the statements and public relations
educators responded neutrally.
Given that two of the key tenets of a profession is that it provides a
unique and essential service to the public and adheres to an established
code of ethics, it can be assumed that journalism educators do not perceive
public relations to be a profession and/or its practitioners to be
professional. This would seem to reinforce previous findings, which
indicated that their respective attitudes toward ethics are just one of the
many sticking points between these two groups. Indeed, Hunt and Tripok
(1993) argued that ethics are inextricably bound with credibility, and
other empirical evidence suggests that practitioners who base their
decision-making and recommendations on ethical principles and social
responsibility are more likely to enjoy positive relationships with various
publics. This may ultimately affect the degree of credibility attached to
public relations in a professional and educational context. In addition,
the fact that public relations educators responded neutrally is noteworthy,
but ultimately makes it difficult to speculate on the true extent of the
relationship between ethics and professionalism for these two samples.
The study found that the extent to which journalists' mistrust of public
relations was influenced by what they learned about the occupation in the
academy, rather than by negative experiences with individual practitioners
was significantly different between the two samples, but both disagreed
with the statement. In a previous study Cline (1982) argued that some of
the negative attitudes toward public relations stem from the educational
process, and that many mass communication textbooks were very hostile to
public relations. The study did not directly ask how much textbooks
influenced perceptions, so the researchers cannot assert that journalists
and journalism educators have been influenced by texts and literature that
portray public relations in a negative light. However, it is possible that
their worldview is based more on what they read, rather that what they
really know about public relations. Further examination of this topic in
the future is obviously necessary. Cline's study was based on older
textbooks, and it may be that later additions of journalism textbooks treat
public relations more fairly and focus on aspects of public relations other
than media relations.
The study also examined how academic programs in journalism and public
relations are perceived, and whether public relations and journalism belong
in the same department. While there was not a significant difference
between the two groups in relation to whether journalism programs are more
respected in the academy than public relations programs and whether public
relations programs have a strong body of knowledge and skills, based on
theory and research, both samples responded rather neutrally, which makes
these findings difficult to interpret.
However, there was a difference between the two samples in relation to
whether journalism programs attract students with a more critical intellect
than public relations programs, and that journalism students have a keener
moral compass than their public relations counterparts. While both samples
disagreed with the statements, public relations educators disagreed more
so. Once again it is interesting to note that journalism educators
disagreed with the statements, which may indicate that they confer some
level of respect on public relations programs.
However, journalism educators' largely neutral responses to the following
statements would seem to undermine this assertion to some extent. When both
samples were asked about their perceptions of how public relations programs
are perceived in the academy, their views differed on whether public
relations educators stress the importance of critical thinking skills and
social responsibility to their students and emphasize the importance of
ethics and professionalism. Not surprisingly, public relations educators
agreed with these statements. While journalism educators' responses were
neutral in relation to the first statement, they were in more agreement
with the latter. Pratt (1991) and Hunt and Tripok (1993) argued that
acknowledgements of professionalism and ethics signify that a degree of
"social respect" and credibility may therefore exist. Interestingly, as
shown in the results of the second research question, journalism educators
responded negatively to statements that explored this issue in a
professional context. Perhaps they think more highly of the ethics and
professionalism of public relations educators than those of practitioners
in general. This would seem to parallel Jeffers' (1977) results to some
extent, which found that journalists ranked public relations practitioners
with whom they had personal contact as more ethical than practitioners in
general. Again, this is an issue that public relations practitioners should
be made aware of, as an important building block on which to build positive
relations in the future.
It is also interesting to note that both samples disagreed that public
relations is largely concerned with media relations, and agreed that public
relations programs teach students how to become strategic communication
managers. These findings would seem contrary to previous literature that
indicated that some public relations educators feel that they operate in
what Walker (1987) called a "Mother, may I?" environment where curriculum
and other decisions are made by a predominantly news-oriented faculty who
fail to see public relations beyond its media relations function.
Journalism educators' responses indicate an acknowledgement, to some degree
at least, that the public relations function is not simply confined to
The last research question asked whether public relations and journalism
belong in the same department. There was not a significant difference in
responses; both groups of educators agreed with the statement. Again, this
would seem to contradict previous research (Walker, 1989; Dickson, 2000)
that implied that many public relations sequences are made to feel like
"orphans or outcasts" in the academy. It should be noted that respondents
were not asked why the two programs belong in the same department. Some
might argue that public relations sequences are valued for the large number
of students they attract. Further research could explore this in more depth.
The study found that journalism educators displayed more agreement with
positive statements about public relations than the literature or anecdotal
evidence would suggest. It may be that having read so many previous studies
that highlight their antagonistic relationship, public relations educators'
may perceive that journalism educators' views are very different to theirs,
or, assume that journalism educators hold the same views as their
'professional' journalist counterparts. The results of this study indicate
that journalism educators do not differ as substantially and negatively in
their opinions of public relations as the latter may believe. These
'misunderstandings' could be jeopardizing opportunities for a more
cooperative relationship between the two. Perhaps an acknowledgement of
what the two disciplines have in common could ultimately result in what
Carter (1995) and Dickson (2000) describe as a more interdisciplinary
approach to journalism education, which would ultimately benefit both
The study also indicates that the nature and focus of future communication
between the two groups obviously needs to be re-addressed. Since the public
relations profession rests on the assumption that positive attitudes
contribute to favorable behavior towards individuals, products or
organizations, public relations educators may be best advised to engage in
some self-reflection. They must identify and address why misperceptions,
exist and how they can build on any agreement that does exist between them.
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