Tuesday, April 28, 2009

I, Gatekeeper?

My employer has had to communicate a lot of difficult news recently (layoffs, losses etc) due to the financial crisis. And such sensitive news has to be carefully crafted and delivered through the media, of course. It was in this context that I wondered whether my employer would ever be comfortable communicating such content online.

Theorists claim a new model of communication (and a new variety of PR practice) is required due to the internet. The level of interactivity and participation online, they argue, means the traditional role of the journalist (and corporate media relations effort) as gatekeeper to audiences, is made redundant.

But that’s a big jump to make, despite the ever-increasing power of the internet. Credibility is a key issue (as authors like Tom Kelleher point out) and according to my corporate communication buddies, the various stakeholder groups are more likely to trust the Financial Times or Asian Wall Street Journal for corporate news compared to a (more bias?) post made on the corporate website. And on the idea of direct online dialogue, another PR friend told me ‘I might send a press release through the internet, but I don’t want a time-consuming and possible abusive interactive dialogue with [stakeholders] afterwards’.

From a corporate perspective, current communication practice can sometimes prove difficult to police due to the ever-present human element. Online interaction only adds to this ‘risk’ and makes content control – and therefore the ability to earn credibility – even more difficult. Ultimately and inevitably some PR work will move online, but it seems to me that media gatekeepers can still sleep peacefully, at least for now.

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