The fact that the field of public relations represents a danger, by undermining “independent” journalism, has been at the centre of many scholarly debates in the last 20 years. Philomen Schönhagen, researcher at the University of Fribourg (Switzerland), has taken on the daunting task of illuminating the origins of PR.
In an article published in Publizistik, in which she quotes many impressive sources, she convincingly shows that, in the beginning, the relationship between the press and PR was the reverse of what it is today.
Originally, PR represented a counter-reaction to the many wrong turns taken by the journalism of the time. Because the main thing that gave rise to public relations as a field of its own was “the discontent, at least among those affected, about the distorting way certain topics were treated, or not treated at all, a situation that was linked to the partiality of the journalism and media” of that period. Schönhagen also sheds some light on the origins of PR in Switzerland. Already in 1886, for example, seasoning manufacturer Maggi set up a “Reclame- und Pressebüro” (advertising and press office), which was used to fend off the first press campaign waged against the company, before the First World War. What else can we learn from all this? Perhaps, it is journalism’s own shortcomings that have led to its current malaise and the “creative destruction” that has gripped the whole field.
Reference: Philomen Schönhagen, “Ko-Evolution von Public Relations und Journalismus: Ein erster Beitrag zu ihrer systematischen Aufarbeitung“, in: Publizistik, 53th year, vol. 1, 2008, p. 9-24
Translation: Oliver Heinemann