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ARTICLE - Building and maintaining relationships with the media from a PR perspective

Published on 10th October 2019

Exploring the public relations professional/journalist relationship

As a public relations practitioner working for business, one of the most important relationships to be nurtured is that with the media. The building of such a relationship isn’t achieved overnight it takes considerable time and effort. Practising good media relations is an ongoing task, not a last-minute effort employed only when publicity is required. Co-operation with the media is essential and central to succeeding in business. In this article we explore the public relations professional/journalist relationship drawing on findings in research on the topic.


According to Mersham et al, the Public Relations Institute of New Zealand define public relations as: “the deliberate, planned and sustained effort to establish and maintain mutual understanding and excellent communications between an organisation and its publics”. This definition emphasises the strategic approach required by an organisation to sustain a positive relationship with their publics (including the media). Practitioners believe their role is mainly about managing relations and the communications process.

As a public relations professional the role often involves establishing relationships with news media, magazines, freelance writers and others with the intention of getting them to publish or broadcast news. Along with responding to media enquiries for information or acting as spokesperson. It may also involve production and booking of advertising as part of a public relations programme and the role requires a wide range of skills and experience.

According to Theunissen and Sissons the Public Relations Professional (PRP)-Journalist relationship has historically been tetchy, going back to the very beginning of public relations, when journalists resented PRP’s attempts to gain free publicity. The relationship between journalists and PRP's has been anything but amicable. The term Public Relations (PR) has a long history of negative association, with PR practitioners often being described as “flacks, shysters, and worse”.

PR is still considered by many, particularly journalists, as just another name for publicity. PR practitioners argue that media are biased against them and their clients. Their research noted that the journalist relationship with PRP was proving increasingly necessary since staff editorial cut-backs began to take effect in the mid-2000s. This also sees more pressure applied to journalists to provide more copy in less time resulting in them being more reliant on PR. 

Tilley and Hollings results in a qualitative survey asked journalists for their thoughts on public relations showed that journalists are conflicted about the value of public relations and these findings mirror international attitudes.  While White asked in an article in the North and South Magazine who do you trust? This article drew on the ‘Dirty Politics’ book written by Nicky Hager which revealed the lengths public relations people will go to, and the strategy they will use, to influence public opinion and government policy. The ethics of public relations professionals was called into question in this article based on the actions of a few people to misuse information which tarnished the reputation of public relations.  

While social behavior and personality research undertaken by Yoo and Jo examined how journalists expressed their perceptions of public relations using tweets on Twitter. The results showed that journalists did not hold a favourable attitude toward PR. However, positive perceptions could be developed if PR professionals provide more accurate information. The results also indicate that showing the effectiveness or value of relationship building by PR practitioners would be more effective in addressing the understanding of PR among journalists. 


In conclusion, the role of a public relations professional working for business in New Zealand is challenging particularly when it comes to building and maintaining relationships with the media. You must be a skilled public relations practitioner with experience in the PR field. The findings in some of the public relations research undertaken on the topic, is an indicator that despite the differences public relations and journaist still rely on each to get the news out to the public. Regardless of what the future holds, it is clear the role of public relations today involves building and maintaining relationships with the media and this is unlikely to change in the near future.