MASS COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY, 2003, 6(4), 397–411




            The Portrayal of Public Relations
                  in t...
398     JO


publicity activities—writing news releases, pitching news stories, and making
attempts to influence public op...
THE PORTRAYAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE NEWS MEDIA                399


definitions inadequately express public relations...
400     JO


ond dimension, initiative, asks “To what extent is the public relations function re-
active versus pro-active...
THE PORTRAYAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE NEWS MEDIA               401


Image–Reputation Management
Like the publicity (pr...
402     JO


   The first hypothesis reveals the overall connotation of public relations in news
content. The second hypot...
THE PORTRAYAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE NEWS MEDIA             403


rate meaning of public relations and a beneficial ou...
404         JO


                                     TABLE 2
                 News Story Type Containing the Term Public ...
TABLE 3
                              Meaning of the Term Public Relations

                                              ...
406     JO


indicated that image–reputation was covered as the most dominant function of
public relations (see Table 5).
...
TABLE 5
                                                        Organization Type and Primary Public Relations Purpose

  ...
408      JO


                                        TABLE 6
         Purposes of Public Relations and Connotations of Pu...
THE PORTRAYAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE NEWS MEDIA                 409


that public relations should be sought in the or...
410       JO


relations in news stories uncovers the actual understanding of public relations in
mass media. A normative ...
THE PORTRAYAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE NEWS MEDIA                                411

Grunig, J. E. (1992). Symmetrical ...
Jo 2003 The Portrayal Of Public Relations In The News Media
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Jo 2003 The Portrayal Of Public Relations In The News Media

  1. 1. MASS COMMUNICATION & SOCIETY, 2003, 6(4), 397–411 The Portrayal of Public Relations in the News Media Samsup Jo School of Mass Communications Texas Tech University This study explored the meanings and connotations of public relations in news stories carried by major newspapers and network television. The findings suggest that the term public relations was primarily used to suggest image building, reputation man- agement, and persuasion efforts. News story interpretations of public relations terms were likely to refer to publicity, image, campaigns of persuasion, and marketing ef- forts to promote an organization’s claims. The results reveal that negative connota- tions of public relations prevail in journalists’ stories discussing the practice of pub- lic relations. The results imply that public relations practitioners trying to pitch their clients’ stories need to understand how journalists will likely perceive the stories’ news value. Two-way communication should begin with media relations via an un- derstanding of journalists’ viewpoints. For a long time, the relationship between public relations practitioners and journal- ists has been an uneasy alliance. The term public relations has been met with skep- ticism and sometimes cynicism by journalists. Even though some scholars provide well-organized definitions of public relations, media professionals appear to be hesitant to credit a reputable definition of the practice (Bishop, 1988). A vari- ety of definitions have been offered by scholars and the Public Relations Soci- ety of America (PRSA); a widely accepted definition of pubic relations is still in discussion. Even though many scholars have adopted Grunig and Hunt’s (1984) definition of public relations as the management function, most media professionals have not. In journalism practice, journalists view public relations as an image-making or tactic-oriented profession. These individuals often equate public relations with Requests for reprints should be sent to Samsup Jo, School of Mass Communications, Box 43082, Texas Tech University, Lubbock, TX 79409-3082. E-mail: samsup.jo@ttu.edu
  2. 2. 398 JO publicity activities—writing news releases, pitching news stories, and making attempts to influence public opinion in favor of organizations. In short, they do not see public relations as a management function that nurtures mutually reward- ing relationships. Because the general public sees the world through the lenses of the mass media, journalists’ word choices have an important impact on ordinary people’s under- standing of any subject. As Severin and Tankard (1997) suggested, mass media play a critical role in forming the meaning of any terminology. Thus, the media’s use of certain terms results in the construction of broad public meanings (Taylor & Condit, 1988). For this reason, it is important to understand how the media define public relations and use the term in the context of news stories. When most corpo- rate executives or ordinary people talk about public relations, they have formed their conceptual images and definitions of public relations based on perceptions derived from mass media. The importance of this study lies in how media deal with the term public rela- tions. By analyzing news stories containing the term public relations, we can infer the connotative meanings of the term in the news media. One of the advantages of content analysis is its potential to identify portrayals of certain issues or objects over a period of time (Wimmer & Dominick, 2002). Portrayals of public relations can give us a better understanding of how the term—and thus the practice—is per- ceived in the news media. Also, the study can provide a starting point to educate the news media as to the correct meaning of the term public relations. Thus, the study can provide public relations practitioners with grounds for better relation- ship building with the media. The purpose of this study was to explore the meanings and connotations of pub- lic relations in the context of news stories carried by major national newspapers and network television. In this study, news stories containing the term public rela- tions were content analyzed using a framework of public relations’ purposes and perceived connotations. Grunig and Hunt defined public relations as “management of communication between an organization and its publics” (1984, p. 94)—that is, they defined public relations as a management function beyond communication techniques such as publicity and news releases. Noting the existence of negative connotations of pub- lic relations, they suggested that “although public relations is probably the oldest concept used to describe the communication activities of organizations, many or- ganizations now use terms such as business communication and public affairs to describe these activities” (1984, p. 4). Hutton (1999) argued that public relations has failed to reach a broad definition of itself from its fundamental purpose to its underlying dimensions. In particular, he argued that public relations needs to reach some sort of general consensus about its definition if it wishes to advance as a scholarly and professional endeavor. He asserted that one of the most common criticisms arises from the fact that academic
  3. 3. THE PORTRAYAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE NEWS MEDIA 399 definitions inadequately express public relations’ true functions in contemporary business and politics: “For example, the concept of persuasion is very much a part of everyday practice, yet few academic definitions include persuasion as a basic tenet” (p. 201). Largely, the general public perceives that public relations has played a decisive role in shaping public opinion and the ethos of advocacy (Lee, 2001). Hutton (1999) identified the heavy use of public relations terms in politics as well as in the business sphere. Hutton asserted the need for additional dimensions of public relations for individuals: “Virtually all of the definitions speak to the is- sue of ‘organizations,’ ignoring the practice of public relations for individuals or groups of people who are not formally organized” (p. 202). One problem faced by public relations practitioners seeking better public re- lations is that the reputation of the practice seems to be getting worse rather than better (Henderson, 1998; Ihator, 1999; Spicer, 1993). In sum, antagonism and animosity toward public relations have been embedded in journalistic culture. Content analyses of public relations terms provide more evidence of negative connotations of the public relations profession (Aronoff, 1975; Henderson, 1998; Olasky, 1987; Rhinebeck, 1999; Spicer 1993; Ward, 1998; Weaver & Wilhoit, 1986). Several studies demonstrated that journalists view public rela- tions practitioners as adversaries and rate public relations as one of the least hon- orable occupations (Ryan & Martinson, 1988; Spicer, 1993). Journalists tend to believe that public relations practitioners are more inclined to mislead the pub- lic than is actually reported to be the case. Public relations practitioners argue that media professionals are biased against them and their clients and that they are often unfamiliar with the topics they write about (Ward, 1998). Overall, previous studies confirm the existence of antagonism among journalists toward public relations. HUTTON’S PUBLIC RELATIONS DIMENSION AND FRAMEWORK Hutton (1999) argued that the public relations has failed to evolve broadly ac- cepted definitions of public relations in terms of its purpose, its dominant meta- phor, its scope, or its underlying dimensions. He asserted that the academic defini- tions are too normative to describe the contemporary public relations practices of businesses and of individuals, such as politicians. Hutton (1999) proposed that the three I (interest, initiative, and image) dimensions are most likely to encompass a variety of orientations or definitions of public relations. The interest dimension is similar to the “balance of intended effects” proposed by Grunig and Hunt (1984). The critical question is “To what degree is the public relations function focused on client interests versus the public interest?” The sec-
  4. 4. 400 JO ond dimension, initiative, asks “To what extent is the public relations function re- active versus pro-active?” The third dimension, image, suggests the following question: “To what extent is the organization focused on perception versus reality (or image versus substance)?” (Hutton, 1999, pp. 201–204). Based on these three dimensions of public relations, Hutton (1999) developed six frameworks for analyzing public relations theory and practice. Hutton’s di- mensions of interest, initiative, and image capture the range of public rela- tions functions more fully than Grunig and Hunt’s (1984) two dimen- sions—the way of communication and the intended effect. Thus, the six frameworks are more descriptive of contemporary public relations than Grunig and Hunt’s conceptualization. Persuasion Persuasion refers to the prevalent practice of public relations. Hutton (1999) ex- plained that persuasion is oriented toward persuading audiences to think or act in ways that benefit the client–organization. Promotion, propaganda, and the “engi- neering of consent” fall in this category. Advocacy Even if advocacy is similar to persuasion in its intentions, it is different from per- suasion in that advocacy arises out of controversy or active opposition. Thus, advo- cacy public relations efforts are triggered by a crisis or other catalyst. Public Information Public information as defined by Hutton (1999) is similar to Grunig and Hunt’s (1984) public information model. Public relations serves primarily as an informa- tion subsidy in an organization and as an information clearing house. Cause Related The cause-related framework is similar to advocacy in that it may be reactive and triggered by a public event. Cause-related public relations, however, serves a broader public interest rather than any special-interest group or individual. For ex- ample, Hutton (1999) stated that public relations carried out by the Red Cross and the American Cancer Society falls into this category.
  5. 5. THE PORTRAYAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE NEWS MEDIA 401 Image–Reputation Management Like the publicity (press) agentry model of Grunig and Hunt (1984), image–repu- tation management looks primarily to publicity, spin control, and the creation and manipulation of symbols as its primary tactics. Relationship Management Relationship management values the relationship between an organization and its publics. This framework emphasizes mutual trust, compromise, cooperation, and, whenever possible, win–win situations (Broom, Casey, & Ritchey, 1997; Bruning & Ledingham, 2000; Grunig & Huang, 2000; Hon & Grunig, 1999; Ledingham & Bruning, 1998). One of the excellent aspects of Hutton’s (1999) framework is the distinction be- tween public relations roles and the functions of public relations, which are not end goals in themselves but means by which a given objective is achieved. Thus, he ar- gued that some tactics do not necessarily involve communication activity between an organization and its publics. For example, “publicity” does not define public re- lations but is simply one possible function or tactic of public relations. He pro- posed that communication is not necessarily a sufficient foundation for public rela- tions. In classifying the term public relations in mass media more extensively, Hutton provided a relevant framework for analyzing the connotation of public rela- tions in news content. HYPOTHESES Analysis of news stories containing the term public relations can shed light not only on how public relations is portrayed in the news media but also on how it is under- stood in a society. Given the earlier studies, the meanings of public relations can be analyzed depending on the public relations definition. The connotative meanings of public relations may be related to the news type and organizational type. Thus, the following hypotheses can be proposed: H1: The overall connotation of public relations is more likely to be negative than positive in news stories. H2: With regard to the function of public relations, image making is more likely to appear in the news stories than is management function. H3: The negative use of public relations is more likely to be associated with a business organization than a government agency.
  6. 6. 402 JO The first hypothesis reveals the overall connotation of public relations in news content. The second hypothesis illustrates the function of public relations in news stories. The third hypothesis explores the relations between organizational type and the connotation of public relations in news content. METHODS Data Collection and Analysis Instances of the term public relations were drawn from five media sources, in- cluding two prestigious newspapers, the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal, and the evening news on the three main television networks—ABC, CBS, and NBC. It is reasonable to assume that the two newspapers represent na- tional news and business news, respectively. The three television networks cho- sen represent national television networks in the United States. To reflect con- temporary use of public relations, the time period examined spanned from October 1998 to October 2001. News stories containing the term public relations were drawn from the LexisNexis database. These news stories basically contain a public relations term, the term public relations, or a related term such as public relations war. The LexisNexis database yielded 567 stories containing the term public relations. For the purpose of the relevant objectives of the study, this study excluded public relations terms related to position and company name, such as public relations agency, public relations firm, and public relations direc- tor/manager. After the screening process, a total of 303 public relations terms were selected for analysis. The newspapers yielded 207 stories with the term public relations and the network television news yielded 96 stories found in the transcripts of network news stories. The content analysis unit was a news story containing the term public relations. To examine research questions, chi-square was used for statistical analysis. Coding Category First, the term public relations was analyzed by the purpose of public relations, based on Hutton’s (1999) framework. Based on Hutton’s classification, the pur- pose of public relations was interpreted as persuasion, advocacy, public informa- tion, cause-related public relations, image–reputation public relations, and rela- tionship management. Second, news story types were analyzed by news format (straight, feature, opinion column, editorial). Third, the connotation of the term was analyzed in the news context. In this regard, the coding category refers to whether the term public relations was used positively, negatively, or neutrally. A positive meaning displays the positive role of public relations, suggesting the accu-
  7. 7. THE PORTRAYAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE NEWS MEDIA 403 rate meaning of public relations and a beneficial outcome to an organization. A negative meaning involves a dilemma of image, or failure of reputation manage- ment toward the organization. In this case, public relations was portrayed in a de- rogatory manner. A neutral meaning denoted a general adjectival use of public re- lations as in the phrases public relations strategy and public relations campaign. Intercoder Reliability To test for intercoder reliability, two coders coded the same 303 stories. The Scott’s pi intercoder reliability was conducted for the primary public relations purpose, primary news type, and the perceived meaning of public relations. Scott’s pi was .85, .94, and .82, respectively. The overall Scott’s pi coefficient was .84. RESULTS This study examined the meanings of public relations in the context of news me- dia. Table 1 shows the primary purpose of public relations as placed in the news context. Among Hutton’s (1999) six frameworks, image–reputation management (51.8%) was the most frequently used for the primary public relations purpose, fol- lowed by the purposes of persuasion (25.1%), public information (13.2%), advo- cacy (4.3%), cause-related public relations (3.0%), and relationship management (2.6%). In fact, image–reputation management, persuasion, and public informa- tion covered more than 90% of the total news stories. The journalists most fre- quently perceived public relations as image–reputation management (51.8%) fol- lowed by persuasion (25.1%) when the term public relations was displayed in the news media. Thus, it is possible to reason that most journalists perceive public re- lations primarily as image–reputation and persuasion efforts. Table 2 shows the news type covered in the news stories associated with the use of the term public relations. Straight news stories (65.3%) were the most frequent, TABLE 1 Primary Public Relations Purposes in News Stories Purpose of Public Relations Frequency % Persuasion 76 25.1 Advocacy 13 4.3 Public information 40 13.2 Cause related 9 3.0 Image–reputation management 157 51.8 Relationship management 8 2.6 Total 303 100.0
  8. 8. 404 JO TABLE 2 News Story Type Containing the Term Public Relations News Type Frequency % Straight 198 65.3 Feature 61 20.1 Opinion 25 8.3 Editorial 19 6.3 Total 303 100.0 followed by feature stories (20.1%), opinion (8.3%), and editorial (6.3%). Table 2 demonstrates that the majority of news stories containing the term public relations appeared as either straight news or feature types. Table 3 demonstrates how public relations terms were used in the news stories. As noted in this study’s coding category section, a positive use involves the accu- rate meaning and constructive function of public relations. In contrast, a negative use refers to image problems and the failure of image making. In other words, pub- lic relations was perceived only in relation to the image-building function. A neu- tral use involves the general naming of public relations related to its routine func- tions. Even though the neutral meaning (46.9%) was most frequent in the analysis, negative connotation (40.9%) was much larger than positive connotation (12.2%). The high frequency of neutral use may be attributed to the journalistic practice that emphasizes fairness and objectivity in gathering information and reporting issues. Moreover, communication through media generally tends to be a publicity func- tion, which is rarely practiced by two-way communication. Journalists doubt the credibility of news sources in that public relations material is often disguised as news, or too frequently insists on promoting products and services that do not de- serve news space (Aronoff, 1975). It is important to note that negative terms were used much more often with the term public relations than positive terms. Table 3 summarizes the classification of the meanings of the term public relations in the news stories. The connotation of public relations was more likely to be negative when the news stories dealt with business organizations and federal or state government, χ2(8) = 23.73, p < .01 (see Table 4). In addition, if the news stories involved a ce- lebrity or politician, the connotation of public relations exhibited a more negative tone. In contrast, the term public relations was more likely to be used positively when dealing with nonprofit organizations, with 38.9% of total news stories on nonprofit organizations. Only 7.6% of business organizations were described posi- tively in relation to use of public relations terms. When the relation between organization type and public relations purpose was analyzed, the image–reputation function managed by business organizations was the most dominant coverage in the news media, χ2(20)= 31.8, p < .05. These results
  9. 9. TABLE 3 Meaning of the Term Public Relations Total Frequency Meaning Public Relations in Newsa n % Positive PR support (4), PR success (3), PR victory (3), PR advice (3), PR help 37 12.2 (2), PR tutelage (2), Good PR (2), PR benefit (7), PR value (3), PR support (1), PR boost (1), PR fronts (1), PR comeback (1), PR boon (2), PR bonanza (2) Neutral PR campaign (39), PR strategy (17), PR move (2), PR efforts (18), PR 142 46.9 blitz (10), PR exercise (8), PR pitch (4), PR news release (3), PR offensive (2), PR move (2), PR assistant (1), PR expert (4), PR makeover (3), PR drive (4), PR operation (1), PR standpoint (1), PR guru (1), PR service (1), PR venues (1), PR people (1), PR department (1), PR promotion (3), PR apparatus (2), PR and marketing (5), PR and advertising (6), PR opportunity (2), PR maven (1) Negative PR disaster (27), PR problem (10), PR liability (2), PR debacle (4), PR 124 40.9 damage (5), PR nightmare (7), PR battle (6), PR war (4), PR stunt (3), PR difficulty (4), PR fiasco (2), PR coup (5), PR blunders (2), PR mess (2), PR mistake (2), PR risk (2), PR headache (4), PR ploys (2), PR wizardry (1), PR black hole (2), PR grunt (1), PR flair (1), PR flop (1), PR ordeal (1), PR back eye (2), PR crisis (3), PR spinmeister (3), PR maneuver (1), PR buzz (2), PR gaffe (1), Bad PR (1), PR fallout (1), PR shadows (1), PR hell (1), PR hirelings (1) PR fumes (2), panache for PR (1), PR concern (3), PR embellishment (1) Total 303 100 Note. PR = public relations. aNumbers in parentheses indicate the frequency of appearance. TABLE 4 Organization Type and Connotation of the Term Public Relations Nuance Positive Neutral Negative Total Organization n % n % n % n % Business 12 7.6 81 51.3 65 41.1 158 100 Federal or state government 7 14.9 23 48.9 17 36.2 47 100 Nonprofit 7 8.9 6 33.3 5a 27.8 18 100 Citizen group 1a 7.7 5a 38.5 7 53.8 13 100 Politician or celebrity 10 14.8 27 41.1 30 44.1 67 100 Total 37 12.0 142 46.9 124 40.9 303 100 Note. χ2(8) = 23.73, p < .01. aThe cells less than 5 are not included for overall calculation of the chi-square test. 405
  10. 10. 406 JO indicated that image–reputation was covered as the most dominant function of public relations (see Table 5). As shown in Table 6, a chi-square test showed that the most negative connota- tion was statistically significant when public relations was used to convey the purpose of image–reputation. In addition, the neutral meaning of public relations was closely related when the term public relations was used for the purpose of persuasion. There was no statistical difference between media types in the use of public relations terms. DISCUSSION AND CONCLUSION This study examined the use of the term public relations in newspapers and net- work television news stories. Ordinary people’s perception of public relations is the product of socialization, education, and incidental learning from both mass communication and personal experience. Lippmann (1922), for example, used the term stereotypes to describe our stock of mental images. Social psychologists use the more neutral term schemas. Schemas denote knowledge structures based on experiences that organize people’s perceptions of the world. The analytical ap- proach to schemas is based on the notion that people are “cognitive misers,” that is, people have well-defined cognitive limits (Fiske & Taylor, 1991). Thus, analyzing how the term public relations was used in news stories may help us to understand the meaning of public relations in media. By using Hutton’s (1999) public relations framework, this study analyzed the connotative meanings of public relations that influence the general public’s under- standing of public relations. The findings suggested that news stories primarily use the term public relations to suggest image building, reputation management, and persuasion efforts. The use of public relations terms was likely to refer to publicity, image, campaigns of persuasion, and marketing efforts to promote an organiza- tion’s products or services. Contrary to the recent emphasis on public relations as relationship management, the overall news portrayal of public relations suggested a discrepancy between the normative definition of public relations and media us- age in news stories. In particular, the results of this study reveal that negative connotations of public relations were overwhelmingly prevalent in news stories discussing public rela- tions. For example, the phrases public relations disaster, public relations problem, and public relations debacle were frequently used when journalists wrote news stories about organizations. In most news stories, public relations was described as an image-building function and reputation management. The results demonstrated that the overwhelming majority of news story refer- ences to public relations are negative or unfavorable in tone. Only 37 of 303 refer- ences were classified as positive, with 142 neutral and 124 negative. There are multi-
  11. 11. TABLE 5 Organization Type and Primary Public Relations Purpose Primary Public Relations Purpose Public Cause Image or Relationship Persuasion Advocacy Information Related Reputation Management Total Organization n % n % n % n % n % n % n % Business 42 26.6 2a 1.3 23 14.7 6 3.8 80 50.2 5a 3.3 158 100 Federal or state government 11 23.4 3a 6.4 6 12.8 3a 6.4 24 51.0 47 100 Nonprofit 2a 11.1 4a 22.2 12 66.7 18 100 Citizen group 7 53.5 2a 15.5 4a 31.0 13 100 Politician or celebrity 14 21.0 6 9.0 7 10.3 37 55.2 3a 4.5 67 100 Total 76 25.1 13 4.3 40 13.2 9 3.0 157 51.8 8 2.7 303 100 Note. χ2(20) = 31.81, p < .05. aThe cells less than 5 are not included for overall calculation of the chi-square test. 407
  12. 12. 408 JO TABLE 6 Purposes of Public Relations and Connotations of Public Relations Terms Nuance Positive Neutral Negative Total Primary Purpose n % n % n % n % Persuasion 4a 5.3 15 19.7 57 75.0 76 100 Advocacy 9 69.2 2a 15.4 2a 15.4 13 100 Public information 2a 5 15 37.5 23 57.5 40 100 Cause related 1a 11.2 4a 44.4 4a 44.4 9 100 Image or reputation management 21 13.4 102 64.9 34 21.7 157 100 Relationship management 4a 50 4a 50 8 100 Total 37 12.2 142 46.9 124 40.9 303 100 Note. χ2(10) = 113.43, p < .001. aThe cells less than 5 are not included for overall calculation of the chi-square test. ple definitions and meanings of public relations. Grunig and Hunt (1984) defined public relations as “management of communication between an organization and its publics” (pp. 14–15). Given the results of the analysis of the term public relations, it appears that media professionals do not buy the normative definition when writing news stories. The adjectives added to public relations terms in news stories are most likely to be restricted to image–reputation management and persuasion efforts. Cancel, Cameron, Sallot, and Mitrook (1997) proposed contingency theory as an alternative to the normative theory of public relations. Cancel et al. argued that public relations practices encompass a wide range of functions from the extremes of pure advocacy to pure accommodation. Thus, they proposed that this continuum perspective better reflects public relations practices and strategies in a real world. The contingency theory emphasizes the primary function of public relations—the accommodation of the interests of organizations employing public relations activi- ties—rather than the secondary consideration of the public’s interests. In this vein, the use of public relations in news stories is generally perceived as an advocacy function. Although some public relations scholars and practitioners are now embracing two-way communication models that allow mutual understanding and accommo- dation, public relations has historically been practiced as publicity, persuasion, and media relations, which are primarily one-way directional communication. Given the widespread influence of mass media, negative connotations of public relations make it difficult to reframe the status of public relations in society. In recent years, public relations scholars have defined public relations as rela- tionship management (Bruning, 2002; Bruning & Ledingham, 2000; Grunig & Huang, 2000; Ledingham & Bruning, 2000). Relationship management implies
  13. 13. THE PORTRAYAL OF PUBLIC RELATIONS IN THE NEWS MEDIA 409 that public relations should be sought in the organization–public relationship and should result in beneficial outcomes to both publics and organizations. Clearly, media outlets are critical constituencies of public relations for an organization. Greater understanding of the news media’s perceptions of public relations as per- ceived in news media may help public relations practitioners address the problem of distorted definitions of public relations in news stories. In general, public relations scholars define public relations as relationship man- agement between an organization and its publics. Surprisingly, the results of this study show that personal public relations is perceived largely as the positioning and promotion of individuals to form a public identity. The study demonstrated that the news media frequently use public relations terms when describing politi- cians or celebrities in the news. As Morton (1999) pointed out, public relations for individuals is steadily emerging as a significant area of practice, yet little research and theoretical development is currently being undertaken in this area. The study of public relations references reveals that individuals practice positioning, image building, and positive forms of public identity creation. Given the frequent cover- age of personal public relations, public relations research needs to include personal public relations in the future. One of this study’s important findings is the close relation between the negative connotations of public relations and the organization type covered in the news sto- ries. The majority of negative connotations centered on public relations failures, problems, and disasters. The results indicated that the definition of public relations was still understood as image making and reputation management. Often the term is used in a derogatory manner, such as “public relations headache” or “public rela- tions ordeal.” In particular, business organizations facing a public relations prob- lem were portrayed in a negative manner when the organizations had failed in im- age–reputation management. The analysis of public relations purposes based on news stories clearly indi- cated that the interpretation of public relations was narrowly defined as opposed to the normative definition advocated by scholars. Among the six dimensions of pub- lic relations purposes, almost half of the references to public relations referred to image–reputation management (51.8%), followed by persuasion effort (25.1%) and public information (13.2%). Even when the term public relations is under- stood as advocacy (4.3%), cause related (3.0%), and relationship management (2.6%), the overall references to public relations suggested one-directional com- munication to audiences. Although recent relationship management emphasizes mutual understanding and dialogic accommodation efforts by two sides, most cur- rent usage of public relations in the news predominantly referred to marketing, publicity, and campaign efforts for the purpose of image making. One common criticism of public relations definitions is that many academic defi- nitions are too normative or idealistic rather than descriptive of public relations func- tions in contemporary business and politics. This study’s analysis of the term public
  14. 14. 410 JO relations in news stories uncovers the actual understanding of public relations in mass media. A normative definition of public relations explains how public relations should be practiced (Grunig, 2000). Some scholars have defended an asymmetrical approach to public relations by arguing that the symmetrical model meant that orga- nizations would have to abandon their self-interest, which they considered to be un- realistic as well as ill advised. In response to these criticisms, Grunig argued consis- tently that the symmetrical model actually serves the self-interest of the organization better than an asymmetrical model because “organizations get more of what they want when they give up some of what they want” (Grunig, 1992, p. 539). The analysis of connotative meanings of public relations terms indicated that news stories do not yet display favorable attitudes toward the term public relations. The dominance of image making as a public relations function exhibits a disparity between the academic definition and the lay person’s understanding of public rela- tions. Henderson (1998) suggested that education of journalists, editors, and col- umnists would remedy the misuse of the term public relations. However, the re- sults seem to indicate that showing the effectiveness or the value of two-way communication by public relations practitioners would be a more convincing alter- native to correct the restricted understanding of public relations among journalists. Unless public relations practitioners show the excellence of two-way public rela- tions, news media are likely to continue their inaccurate uses of the term public re- lations. The results imply that public relations practitioners trying to pitch their cli- ents’ stories need to understand the news value of these stories from the perspective of the news media. Two-way communication should begin with media relations via understanding news media’s viewpoints. The generation of news coverage in the news media has been the central work of public relations for a long time. In line with the newly emerging framework of relationship management, media relations should be redefined to build an accurate definition of public relations for both news media and public relations practitioners. REFERENCES Aronoff, C. (1975). Credibility of public relations for journalists. Public Relations Review, 1(1), 45–56. Bishop, R. L. (1988). What newspapers say about public relations. Public Relations Review, 14(1), 50–52. Broom, G. M., Casey, S., & Ritchey J. (1997). Toward a concept and theory of organization–public rela- tionships. Journal of Public Relations Research, 9(1), 83–98. Bruning, S. D. (2002). Relationship building as a retention strategy: Linking relationship attitudes and satisfaction evaluations to behavioral outcomes. Public Relations Review, 28(1), 39–48. Bruning, S. D., & Ledingham, J. A. (2000). Perceptions of relationships and evaluations of satisfaction: An exploration of interaction. Public Relations Review, 26(1), 85–95. Cancel, A. E., Cameron, G. T., Sallot, L. M., & Mitrook, M. A. (1997). It depends: A contingency the- ory of accommodation in public relations. Journal of Public Relations Research, 9(1), 31–63. Fiske, S. T., & Taylor, S. E. (1991). Social cognition (2nd ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
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