PRINZ Letter to the Editor, NZ Listener

Thursday 12 December, 2013

Your 5 December editorial notes an explosion of public relations people in the public sector and suggests real journalism is being swamped by their presence.

On behalf of communications staff in the public sector (who are also taxpayers and ratepayers) and all PRINZ members, I suggest that roles in local government and the health sector are not for the faint-hearted, and that the interchangeable use of the terms communications staff and media specialists is misleading. The definition of communications in the public sector is at best inconsistent and almost always denotes more than media relations.

As a (former) Communications Manager in local government my budget included the triennial 10 year Long Term Plan with its extensive community consultation; annual plans and reports; Official Information Requests; advertising for resource consents, job vacancies, council meetings and road closures; satisfying ratepayer requirements for council information; website content; graphic design; mayoral communications; media relations; social media; and displays, events and shows.

Its not clear what the increase in communications spending by the Southern District Health Board (which began this debate) was for, but my exposure to communications in the health sector during a recent consulting assignment suggests that rather than being over-supplied with comms' staff, the sector is chronically under-resourced at a time when public demand for information has never been so high.

Public relations today is multi-dimensional: its about listening to people and communicating with them, and if there has been an explosion it is in the number of different channels, the immediacy and directness of communication, response and feedback.

And real journalism? Its up to us all as professionals and paid employees to do our best work. Over many years of observation, I've never seen anything stop a good journalist yet and that's the way it should be.

Pauline Rose
Prose NZ / President, Public Relations Institute of New Zealand (PRINZ)