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In defence of public relations. Again.

Ian Burrell writing in The Independent this week has called out the growth of the public relations industry as bad for journalism.

Burrell says that the balance of power in the communication triangle between organisations, the media and publics has shifted over the last 20 years.

“Any big story now invariably develops into a credibility contest between the reporter and the communications team of the organisation under fire, with social media becoming a battlefield of damage limitation,” he says.

This is the same argument advanced by City of London University journalism professor Roy Greenslade a month earlier in a blog post on The Guardian.

According the Burrell’s research the latest headcount of journalists in the UK stands at 40,000 whereas the public relations industry numbers 60,000.

I return to the response I wrote to Greenslade’s blog post.

The simple fact is that media organisations employing journalists now are a lot leaner than they were in the past.

The Internet has broken the shackles of deadline, page count and schedule. It has made the distribution cost of content almost zero and provided search and social mechanisms to aide discovery.

Anyone with an Internet connection can be a critical voice and provide a contrary filter to corporate content. Journalists have been supplemented by publics noisy voicing their comment and opinion.

That’s the story of Brand Anarchy.

For its part the public relations industry, supplemented by increasing numbers of former journalists, myself included, is helping organisations engage with publics in two-way dialogue.

That dialogue is seldom easy. You can see the evidence of organisations that get it wrong day in and day out on corporate web sites, blogs, Facebook, Google+ and Twitter.

This is forcing organisations to be more open and transparent, not less so as Burrell suggests.

The public relations industry for its own part is under scrutiny like never before called out by the self-same critical publics.

The industry took a step towards addressing this last week with news that the CIPR is to publish a register of members. It’s a move that Burrell says is not before time.

This is a story of changing business models fuelled by the Internet. It’s strengthening the democratic process not weakening it.

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Stephen Waddington

European Digital & Social Media Director at Ketchum and President of the CIPR. Author of Brand Anarchy and Brand Vandals; and editor and contributor to Share This and Share This Too.