If we take journalism -as David Demers writes in his very recent and most interesting History and Future of Mass Media (Hampton Press)-
‘journalists should keep their personal opinions and the opinions of their newspapers out of their news stories; All sides to a story should be covered and reported; All sides to a story should be given an equal amount of coverage’
But, if we consider public relations, we could say that:
‘a public relator should elaborate the opinions of her/his client/employer; Present them to attract the attention of carefully and increasingly personalized stakeholders; To the point that these may perceive that, yes, all sides to the story have been covered and given an equal amount of relevance(?? see later); With the result that those opinions con-vince and succeed in engaging stakeholders in an effective relationship’
I agree these descriptions are purely normative as both professional practices are in reality quite different. Yet, the clear distinction between the two professions is evident, as the very concept of objectivity varies.
Although both are ready to concede that ‘pure’ objectivity is impossible to achieve, the attribution of information to identified and accessible sources and the quoting of different sides to a controversy allegedly help to produce ‘objective’ and ‘unbiased’ accounts.
Yet, you might wonder about the point of attributing ‘objectivity’ to the domain of public relations, a profession which, by its very nature, is consubstantially subjective, biased and one sided.
The point is technical: if you wish to be credible… not only should you, at the very inception of your argument, explicit your subjectivity, one sideness and bias; but also ‘objectively’ quote various sides of the controversy, as well as offer accessible sources that your interlocutor may readily access.
And this, I hope, is self explanatory.
Having said it, while I certainly agree that all sides to the story should be covered,
I would question the issue of equal amount of coverage for both professions as a needed indicator to achieve objectivity.
From a journalist perspective the concept of neutrality is a much more relevant credibility factor than just equal coverage.
A journalist, unless his function is merely bureaucratic, should be actively neutral: i.e. ensuring more coverage to one position rather than the other is not only realistic, but in many cases just.
Conceding its feasibility (for the sake of the argument), ‘pure’ objectivity inevitably reinforces the more socially powerful sides which allegedly pay lip service to mainstream stereotypes.
Even more so, a public relator would simply betray her/his client/employer if the argument gave equal coverage to all sides and would also contradict the explicited subjectivity, thus hampering the overall credibility of the approach.
Summing it up, active neutrality (in both professions) is not only a ‘nice to have’ kpi which implies specific professional competencies such as ‘objectively’ listening, writing and arguing, but also paves the way for the concept of ‘relative objectivity’ which for both trades turns into a fundamental, and insufficiently studied, argued and valued competitive advantage for the individual professional.
Does this reasoning makes sense to you? Do you think it is worth further thought and investigation? And if so, please integrate, criticise and comment.