What is the Difference Between Public Relations and Journalism?

By Jacqueline Rogers, Communications Committee

The other night during dinner, I mentioned to my engineering friend that I officially decided to change my major from public relations to journalism within the College of Communications. Her immediate response was, “Well what’s the difference? Aren’t they basically the same thing?” And being educated to accurately differentiate between the two, I quickly replied, “No, not at all.”

Now, it is pretty much a fact that engineers think they are the greatest things since sliced bread and the only thing higher than their GPAs are their egos, but my friend’s response is actually a very common mistake amongst the majority of the population.

Many people who are not familiar with the communications industry tend to mix up the roles and responsibilities within different professions, like those of public relations and journalism. Sure, each position requires extensive writing skills as well as being able to interview subjects and intake large amounts of information, but the objectives for a PR practitioner are very different than those of a journalist.

Journalism

A journalist is responsible for gathering and selecting information with the primary purpose of educating the public with news. This news is not meant to sway the public opinion in a certain direction. Because of this, journalists write for a mass audience and publish their work through only one medium depending on where they work.

Public Relations

A PR practitioner’s responsibility is to not only inform the public, but also change the public’s attitudes and behaviors to benefit a certain organization or cause. Since PR practitioners have a more precise message to convey, their audience is carefully selected and segmented for optimal public reaction. Even though they have a smaller audience, PR practitioners have more mediums than journalists to communicate their messages, including newspapers, magazines, radio, television and social media.

So, which one is better? Well, the answer to that is neither. Public relations and journalism are just two different professions for creative communicators (who love to write). In today’s world of rapid communication, it can certainly be helpful to understand both fields of study, since you never truly know the type of situation you will be placed in next.

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