The battle between journalists and PR professionals is epic stuff. Ask any reporter or PR rep – or read the regular screeds in many mainstream media outlets. (At the top of a Monday Google search for “reporters versus PR reps,” I got Forbes.com’s “Reporters Hate PR People, And They Should”, and for those of you who thought it was Obamacare that would fell our republic, the U.K.’s Guardian newspaper instead told us that “More PRs and fewer journalists threatens democracy.”)
Reporters aren’t the only one with complaints, as evidenced by communication newsletter publisher and conference producer Ragan’s “16 ways reporters drive communicators nuts” and “RANT: The Case Against Morally Superior Journalists,” by Dallas marketing and PR agency exec Scott Baradell. (Ragan, however, didn’t do its industry any favors by illustrating the news media’s insolence with an anecdote about a reporter bursting into a company’s private massage room in pursuit of an interview with an exec “whose aching back the masseuse was kneading.”)
The battles are so notorious that they’re regularly depicted in TV and film. (Check out tobacco industry lobbyist/spokesman Nick Naylor in 2005’s satirical “Thank You for Smoking,” and Bizzy Preston, the make-believe train wreck PR rep on network TV’s nighttime soap du jour, “Revenge,” who appears to be inspired by real-life train wreck PR rep Lizzie Grubman.)
So, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise when online local news startup NewsCastic attracted a bit of Twitter and Facebook love Monday with a post headlined “6 Ways PR Flacks Piss Off Journalists.” That post led me to recall a dispatch I had written for Ragan, which was inspired by a Wired magazine editor blocking emails from 370 PR reps he deemed as wasting his time, then posting all of their names in his electronic version of a PR Walk of Shame. NewsCastic’s diatribe broke no new ground, and only struck me because it underscored how little had changed in the almost exactly six years since I penned my contribution to this collective gnashing of teeth – and how mindless all of it had become.
I’m a former daily newspaper reporter and ex-PR exec, so I’ve lived both sides of this debate. But I’m oh-so-weary of this constant drumbeat – mainly because there’s plenty enough idiocy to go around and everyone ought to just get a little perspective.
In a slightly revised excerpt from my earlier post, can you believe that:
- Reporters & PR people often don’t do homework on each other before trying to work together? Some PR people don’t research media outlets before trying to interest reporters in doing a story. And they sometimes – OK, maybe oftentimes – are lazy and send inappropriate pitches to the wrong reporters. And some editors and reporters don’t do homework before approaching companies or conducting interviews. News blast: Some editors don’t even read their own publications. For example, the editor of one of the Big Three business magazines opened a luncheon meeting a few years ago with the CEO of my then-employer by asking if the company’s stock was publicly traded. Not exactly a no-name corporation, the company, Playboy Enterprises, had at the time been listed on the New York Stock Exchange for more than 25 years and had been the subject of numerous reports in the editor’s magazine.
- Reporters & PR people ignore one other? Reporters have the right to ignore PR people’s e-mails and phone calls, or if they actually speak to the PR person, to respond so rudely or profanely that their mothers would be mortified. The PR person also has the prerogative to refuse to comment about an absolutely ridiculous rumor, or decline to schedule a 5:30 p.m. Friday interview with a company exec for a report that has every indication of being misleading at best, or inaccurate at worst.
- Reporters & PR people try to influence each other, sometimes disingenuously? PR people sometimes try to positively shape a story. And reporters sometimes conceal the true angle of their story, with the goal of securing cooperation for what will ultimately be a less-than-flattering report. If you doubt the last one, ask Mark Cuban.
- And that old reliable stand-by – email lists and contact information are sometimes out of date? PR people don’t update their mailing lists nearly often enough, sometimes sending news releases to reporters or editors who have left news outlets months, maybe even a year or two, earlier. Reporters call or e-mail PR people who left a company months, maybe even a year or two, earlier. Reporters continue to call former PR people within a company, even after they’ve been directed to new PR people. And more than five years after moving into my house, I still periodically receive mail intended for the former occupant.
Is any of this surprising? Truly revolting? Or how about this: is it newsworthy, especially when such missives require the time and energy of news outlets that are supposedly already stretched to the absolute limit by layoffs and declining readership and ad revenues.
Like most professions, there are good PR people and bad PR people, good reporters and bad reporters. Hitting the “erase” key on the voice mail or the “delete” key on the email won’t fill Forbes’ or The Guardian’s newshole, or get Newscastic any Twitter and Facebook love. But it’s the far more mature and realistic approach toward working together – or at minimum, peacefully coexisting – in today’s complex and fragmented media and communications world.
As former Financial Times reporter-turned blogger Tom Formeski noted about the Wired magazine brouhaha that inspired my original post, “We all receive bad pitches, that’s part of our job. We ignore or delete, and then we move on with our day.” Just as I and many other PR people have routinely done in weathering the tirades of self-important business columnists, celebrity photographers and big-time news bureau chiefs unaccustomed to being told “no.”