Thursday, October 20, 2005

Developing public information

The last 5-6 years I have focused more on new media cultures such as weblogs and games, than on public information. This has given me a wider understanding of how communication models change and what the pulic today expects, but it has made me lose touch with the development of the profession in Norway. To be back is interesting, as it lets me see that there has been a development.

In 1991, when I started working in Volda, there were a few clear issues. The conflict between journalists and other professional communicators was pronounced, a conflict which culminated in 1997 when the Journalists Union denied access for all who had public relations, information or other similar tasks as part of their jobs. This included journalists in internal newspapers, such as the newspaper covering the largest journalistic institution in Norway, Norwegian Broadcasting, NRK.

The other issue was the positioning of public relations practitioners in the boardrooms, not in the secretarial pool: moving the job from a technical task to a strategic task.

The first was an issue pushed on the information practitioners from outside: journalists wanted to be clearly distinguishable from their very important sources. Most information and public relations practitioners did not disagree. They had no desire to be journalists, they were very clear about the fact that they know who pays their bills and it is not the newsorganisations. To the point that there was much discussion, it was about the actual tasks performed: that they were all communicating, and good communication is the same no matter who you work for. And so their exclusion went by perhaps with some personal aggravation, but no real conflict - more a shrug than a scream. The topic is still alive to a certain point, and Sigurd Allern, one of the speakers today, talks about the weaknesses of both the journalistic and the PR position. (He also points out that we - in this case I - should not use other words than Public Relations, as it does not become nicer or cleaner if it's called something else. In English this sounds ridiculous, but in Norwegian the meaning of PR has historically a different background than in English speaking world.)

The other issue was where the energy was spent, properly supported by the principles of Grunig and Hunt. Today this issue is perfectly absent. Today - while not everybody have a place in the boardroom, in most organisations PR and communication is an issue for the management.

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