It’s time for PR for journalism

“Even if the media industry takes urgent steps like diversifying newsrooms and empowering local media, the populist media bashing won’t go away. Ignoring it is not a sustainable way forward.”

It sounds terrible, I know. Nobody likes PR, and its longstanding effects on journalism have been unquestionably catastrophic. But today, as the populist right takes over the conversation about news and its role within society by bashing journalists and inciting against “the media,” it’s become inescapable: This year, journalists must start campaigning for journalism.

Research conducted in recent years indicates that the anti-media rhetoric and delegitimizing techniques embraced by right-wing elites worldwide affect and polarize public perceptions of the media, undermining its ability to hold those in power accountable. No less important, it also transforms the way journalists work, encouraging self-censorship and what I call “strategic bias” — an intentional shift to the right. In other words, it’s a disaster, both for journalists’ daily lives (which have changed dramatically over the past few years) and for the news we consume.

Initial evidence suggests that making counter-arguments to the baseless accusations against critical journalism is crucial if one is to maintain — or regain — the public’s trust in the news media. But much too often, journalists refrain from making such explicit arguments, worrying that they might portray them as biased and self-interested. Keeping quiet — hoping that the public sees the populist strategy for what it is, or waiting for these dark days to pass — has not been proven useful, in Israel, in the U.S., or elsewhere.

To be clear, what I mean by PR is not the personal self-promotion that journalists do on social media. It’s the commitment to promote and explain journalism as a flawed-yet-necessary social institution. As media-savvy journalists should know, vague arguments about “saving democracy” or “checks and balances” won’t do; they’re too abstract and carry little sentimental resonance for many. So what would a wiser PR strategy look like?

If journalists genuinely believe that journalism is essential for society, they shouldn’t shy away from saying exactly how and why. Dear reporter, editor, and news host: How have you actually contributed to people’s everyday life this past year? What have you done to expose discrimination, corruption, or exploitation? How does your work protect us against disinformation operations or voter suppression?

How about publishing accessible “annual reports,” where journalists tell their audiences simply and directly how their reporting has been helpful this year? How have real people benefited from your reporting? What did you do for the community? If “the watchdog of democracy” remains a vague term with little to do with people’s lives, no one will care when it crumbles.

Educating the public about the role of journalism in society requires deliberate efforts and sincerity, and that’s easier said than done. But there’s no way around it: The risk is just too great, and other strategies have been proven futile. Even if the media industry takes urgent steps like diversifying newsrooms and empowering local media, the populist media bashing won’t go away. Ignoring it is not a sustainable way forward.

For all their flaws, the majority of the journalists I speak to genuinely and overwhelmingly believe in journalism. However, they don’t usually stop to ask themselves why — and they certainly don’t turn to discuss it with their audiences.

Educating people on what journalism is and should be — how it benefits ordinary people every day, what it can save us from — should be the job of vital democratic education, not journalists. At the moment, however, this type of education doesn’t exist in many democratic societies. Journalists can no longer wait for others to change it. Neither can we. Journalists should lead the way, but those among us who still believe in it should follow suit.

By advocating for journalism, we would gain another substantial side benefit: re-orienting the news media to the real-world concrete value that they contribute to society. What is it that is so important about your work? And what did you really achieve for the people you claim to serve at the end of the day?

For too many years, ratings and traffic replaced journalists’ concerns with the added value they provide to their audiences. By trying to deliver PR for journalism, journalists might find that they themselves should dramatically alter their priorities, if they are to make a public case for journalism and why it (still) matters.

Ayala Panievsky is a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of Cambridge.

It sounds terrible, I know. Nobody likes PR, and its longstanding effects on journalism have been unquestionably catastrophic. But today, as the populist right takes over the conversation about news and its role within society by bashing journalists and inciting against “the media,” it’s become inescapable: This year, journalists must start campaigning for journalism.

Research conducted in recent years indicates that the anti-media rhetoric and delegitimizing techniques embraced by right-wing elites worldwide affect and polarize public perceptions of the media, undermining its ability to hold those in power accountable. No less important, it also transforms the way journalists work, encouraging self-censorship and what I call “strategic bias” — an intentional shift to the right. In other words, it’s a disaster, both for journalists’ daily lives (which have changed dramatically over the past few years) and for the news we consume.

Initial evidence suggests that making counter-arguments to the baseless accusations against critical journalism is crucial if one is to maintain — or regain — the public’s trust in the news media. But much too often, journalists refrain from making such explicit arguments, worrying that they might portray them as biased and self-interested. Keeping quiet — hoping that the public sees the populist strategy for what it is, or waiting for these dark days to pass — has not been proven useful, in Israel, in the U.S., or elsewhere.

To be clear, what I mean by PR is not the personal self-promotion that journalists do on social media. It’s the commitment to promote and explain journalism as a flawed-yet-necessary social institution. As media-savvy journalists should know, vague arguments about “saving democracy” or “checks and balances” won’t do; they’re too abstract and carry little sentimental resonance for many. So what would a wiser PR strategy look like?

If journalists genuinely believe that journalism is essential for society, they shouldn’t shy away from saying exactly how and why. Dear reporter, editor, and news host: How have you actually contributed to people’s everyday life this past year? What have you done to expose discrimination, corruption, or exploitation? How does your work protect us against disinformation operations or voter suppression?

How about publishing accessible “annual reports,” where journalists tell their audiences simply and directly how their reporting has been helpful this year? How have real people benefited from your reporting? What did you do for the community? If “the watchdog of democracy” remains a vague term with little to do with people’s lives, no one will care when it crumbles.

Educating the public about the role of journalism in society requires deliberate efforts and sincerity, and that’s easier said than done. But there’s no way around it: The risk is just too great, and other strategies have been proven futile. Even if the media industry takes urgent steps like diversifying newsrooms and empowering local media, the populist media bashing won’t go away. Ignoring it is not a sustainable way forward.

For all their flaws, the majority of the journalists I speak to genuinely and overwhelmingly believe in journalism. However, they don’t usually stop to ask themselves why — and they certainly don’t turn to discuss it with their audiences.

Educating people on what journalism is and should be — how it benefits ordinary people every day, what it can save us from — should be the job of vital democratic education, not journalists. At the moment, however, this type of education doesn’t exist in many democratic societies. Journalists can no longer wait for others to change it. Neither can we. Journalists should lead the way, but those among us who still believe in it should follow suit.

By advocating for journalism, we would gain another substantial side benefit: re-orienting the news media to the real-world concrete value that they contribute to society. What is it that is so important about your work? And what did you really achieve for the people you claim to serve at the end of the day?

For too many years, ratings and traffic replaced journalists’ concerns with the added value they provide to their audiences. By trying to deliver PR for journalism, journalists might find that they themselves should dramatically alter their priorities, if they are to make a public case for journalism and why it (still) matters.

Ayala Panievsky is a Ph.D. student in sociology at the University of Cambridge.

Moreno Cruz Osório   Brazilian journalism turns wounds into action

Emily Nonko   Incarcerated reporters get more bylines

Anthony Nadler   Confronting media gerrymandering

Kirstin McCudden   We’ll codify protection of journalism and newsgathering

Bill Grueskin   Local news will come to rely on AI

Joe Amditis   AI throws a lifeline to local publishers

Jarrad Henderson   Video editing will help people understand the media they consume

Christoph Mergerson   The rot at the core of the news business

Sarabeth Berman   Nonprofit local news shows that it can scale

Valérie Bélair-Gagnon   Well-being will become a core tenet of journalism

Joni Deutsch   Podcast collaboration — not competition — breeds excellence

Jakob Moll   Journalism startups will think beyond English

Larry Ryckman   We’ll work together with our competitors

Alex Sujong Laughlin   Credit where it’s due

Eric Ulken   Generative AI brings wrongness at scale

John Davidow   A year of intergenerational learning

Leezel Tanglao   Community partnerships drive better reporting

Parker Molloy   We’ll reach new heights of moral panic

Tre'vell Anderson   Continued culpability in anti-trans campaigns

Julia Angwin   Democracies will get serious about saving journalism

Walter Frick   Journalists wake up to the power of prediction markets

Kaitlin C. Miller   Harassment in journalism won’t get better, but we’ll talk about it more openly

Al Lucca   Digital news design gets interesting again

Hillary Frey   Death to the labor-intensive memo for prospective hires

Janet Haven   ChatGPT and the future of trust 

Felicitas Carrique and Becca Aaronson   News product goes from trend to standard

Dominic-Madori Davis   Everyone finally realizes the need for diverse voices in tech reporting

Jacob L. Nelson   Despite it all, people will still want to be journalists

Eric Holthaus   As social media fragments, marginalized voices gain more power

Priyanjana Bengani   Partisan local news networks will collaborate

Julia Beizer   News fatigue shows us a clear path forward

Delano Massey   The industry shakes its imposter syndrome

Zizi Papacharissi   Platforms are over

Sarah Alvarez   Dream bigger or lose out

Mario García   More newsrooms go mobile-first

An Xiao Mina   Journalism in a time of permacrisis

Anika Anand   Independent news businesses lead the way on healthy work cultures

Alan Henry   A reckoning with why trust in news is so low

Basile Simon   Towards supporting criminal accountability

Snigdha Sur   Newsrooms get nimble in a recession

Alexandra Borchardt   The year of the climate journalism strategy

Alex Perry   New paths to transparency without Twitter

Daniel Trielli   Trust in news will continue to fall. Just look at Brazil.

Shanté Cosme   The answer to “quiet quitting” is radical empathy

Taylor Lorenz   The “creator economy” will be astroturfed

Jessica Clark   Open discourse retrenches

Kaitlyn Wells   We’ll prioritize media literacy for children

Sue Robinson   Engagement journalism will have to confront a tougher reality

Sue Cross   Thinking and acting collectively to save the news

Gordon Crovitz   The year advertisers stop funding misinformation

A.J. Bauer   Covering the right wrong

Ryan Kellett   Airline-like loyalty programs try to tie down news readers

Sam Guzik   AI will start fact-checking. We may not like the results.

Pia Frey   Publishers start polling their users at scale

Michael Schudson   Journalism gets more and more difficult

Mauricio Cabrera   It’s no longer about audiences, it’s about communities

Jesse Holcomb   Buffeted, whipped, bullied, pulled

Kavya Sukumar   Belling the cat: The rise of independent fact-checking at scale

Brian Moritz   Rebuilding the news bundle

Megan Lucero and Shirish Kulkarni   The future of journalism is not you

Dana Lacey   Tech will screw publishers over

Jim VandeHei   There is no “peak newsletter”

Tamar Charney   Flux is the new stability

Ståle Grut   Your newsroom experiences a Midjourney-gate, too

Stefanie Murray   The year U.S. media stops screwing around and becomes pro-democracy

Jaden Amos   TikTok personality journalists continue to rise

Joshua P. Darr   Local to live, wire to wither

Gabe Schneider   Well-funded journalism leaders stop making disparate pay

Sue Schardt   Toward a new poetics of journalism

Lisa Heyamoto   The independent news industry gets a roadmap to sustainability

Alexandra Svokos   Working harder to reach audiences where they are

Jennifer Brandel   AI couldn’t care less. Journalists will care more. 

Errin Haines   Journalists on the campaign trail mend trust with the public

Juleyka Lantigua   Newsrooms recognize women of color as the canaries in the coal mine

Nicholas Jackson   There will be launches — and we’ll keep doing the work

Wilson Liévano   Diaspora journalism takes the next step

Don Day   The news about the news is bad. I’m optimistic.

Upasna Gautam   Technology that performs at the speed of news

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   More of the same

Raney Aronson-Rath   Journalists will band together to fight intimidation

Janelle Salanga   Journalists work from a place of harm reduction

Andrew Donohue   We’ll find out whether journalism can, indeed, save democracy

Jonas Kaiser   Rejecting the “free speech” frame

Kerri Hoffman   Podcasting goes local

Richard Tofel   The press might get better at vetting presidential candidates

Anna Nirmala   News organizations get new structures

Joanne McNeil   Facebook and the media kiss and make up

Josh Schwartz   The AI spammers are coming

Francesco Zaffarano   There is no end of “social media”

Cory Bergman   The AI content flood

Ayala Panievsky   It’s time for PR for journalism

Mariana Moura Santos   A woman who speaks is a woman who changes the world

Johannes Klingebiel   The innovation team, R.I.P.

Eric Thurm   Journalists think of themselves as workers

Jennifer Choi and Jonathan Jackson   Funders finally bet on next-generation news entrepreneurs

Martina Efeyini   Talk to Gen Z. They’re the experts of Gen Z.

Molly de Aguiar and Mandy Van Deven   Narrative change trend brings new money to journalism

Esther Kezia Thorpe   Subscription pressures force product innovation

Ryan Gantz   “I’m sorry, but I’m a large language model”

Simon Galperin   Philanthropy stops investing in corporate media

Nikki Usher   This is the year of the RSS reader. (Really!)

Masuma Ahuja   Journalism starts working for and with its communities

Bill Adair   The year of the fact-check (no, really!)

Rachel Glickhouse   Humanizing newsrooms will be a badge of honor

Cassandra Etienne   Local news fellowships will help fight newsroom inequities

Karina Montoya   More reporters on the antitrust beat

Andrew Losowsky   Journalism realizes the replacement for Twitter is not a new Twitter

David Cohn   AI made this prediction

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Journalism education faces a crossroads

Mar Cabra   The inevitable mental health revolution

Doris Truong   Workers demand to be paid what the job is worth

Cari Nazeer and Emily Goligoski   News organizations step up their support for caregivers

Mary Walter-Brown and Tristan Loper   Mission-driven metrics become our North Star

Nicholas Diakopoulos   Journalists productively harness generative AI tools

Ben Werdmuller   The internet is up for grabs again

Laura E. Davis   The year we embrace the robots — and ourselves

Matt Rasnic   More newsroom workers turn to organized labor

S. Mitra Kalita   “Everything sucks. Good luck to you.”

Sumi Aggarwal   Smart newsrooms will prioritize board development

David Skok   Renewed interest in human-powered reporting

Peter Bale   Rising costs force more digital innovation

Michael W. Wagner   The backlash against pro-democracy reporting is coming

J. Siguru Wahutu   American journalism reckons with its colonialist tendencies

Sarah Stonbely   Growth in public funding for news and information at the state and local levels

Eric Nuzum   A focus on people instead of power

Cindy Royal   Yes, journalists should learn to code, but…

Mael Vallejo   More threats to press freedom across the Americas

Elite Truong   In platform collapse, an opportunity for community

Jessica Maddox   Journalists keep getting manipulated by internet culture

Victor Pickard   The year journalism and capitalism finally divorce

Jenna Weiss-Berman   The economic downturn benefits the podcasting industry. (No, really!)

Anita Varma   Journalism prioritizes the basic need for survival

Khushbu Shah   Global reporting will suffer

Sarah Marshall   A web channel strategy won’t be enough

Burt Herman   The year AI truly arrives — and with it the reckoning

Jody Brannon   We’ll embrace policy remedies

Brian Stelter   Finding new ways to reach news avoiders

Tim Carmody   Newsletter writers need a new ethics

Gina Chua   The traditional story structure gets deconstructed

Ariel Zirulnick   Journalism doubles down on user needs

Paul Cheung   More news organizations will realize they are in the business of impact, not eyeballs

Dannagal G. Young   Stop rewarding elite performances of identity threat

Peter Sterne   AI enters the newsroom

Rodney Gibbs   Recalibrating how we work apart

Laxmi Parthasarathy   Unlocking the silent demand for international journalism

Barbara Raab   More journalism funders will take more risks

Sam Gregory   Synthetic media forces us to understand how media gets made

Susan Chira   Equipping local journalism

Surya Mattu   Data journalists learn from photojournalists

Nicholas Thompson   The year AI actually changes the media business

Danielle K. Brown and Kathleen Searles   DEI efforts must consider mental health and online abuse

Amethyst J. Davis   The slight of the great contraction

Emma Carew Grovum   The year to resist forgetting about diversity

Ryan Nave   Citizen journalism, but make it equitable

Christina Shih   Shared values move from nice-to-haves to essentials

Kathy Lu   We need emotionally agile newsroom leaders

Jim Friedlich   Local journalism steps up to the challenge of civic coverage