Every few years The Oregonian revisits a favorite old theme and elaborates a core journalistic belief: There just are too damn many public relations people on the public payroll. Such was the case when The Sunday Oregonian (October 16, 2011) let loose with a front-page broadside proclaiming, “Whatever Oregon's trying to communicate, it's costing you millions."
“Oregon is cutting programs that serve poor families, threatening to close highway rest stops and laying off teachers, yet state government spent millions of dollars last year on public relations, advertising, outreach and marketing campaigns,” the article begins.
It’s tempting but not worth spending too much time in rebutting the commentary’s conclusions. But it’s hard to argue over one of the article’s premises – there are more PR professionals working in the public sector today. Here are three simple reasons why this is the case that weren’t mentioned in the commentary:
First, all of us, reporter or publicist, are in a bidding war for mindshare. Our audiences are distracted. The door on the “Information Age” closed some years ago. We now live in the “Too Much Information Age.” We all have to work harder to deliver important news to an overwhelmed public and make that news stick, even when the news may be about public health and safety.
Second, local newspapers and TV news play less of a role in providing the public with news about government and nonprofit organizations. Many community-based newspapers, such as The Oregonian, once were so-called “newspapers of record.” They made an effort to provide readers a regular, if not daily, account of statehouse and city hall events.