Sunday, August 31, 2008

Public Relations and Journalism Annoyances

What's your biggest problem with the opposite profession?

Perhaps the question posed above only perpetuates the adversarial nature of the journalist-practitioner relationship that is a common theme in the literature surrounding the interactions between the two professions. However, the most recent research I've read shows the adversarial nature between the two is on a decline, especially as newsrooms must rely more and more on news releases and other prepackaged information to meet deadlines and fill the print product with fewer reporters as a result of buyouts and budget cuts.

Regardless of which you may be, journalist or practitioner (or perhaps you've been in the shoes of both), it's likely you have a few harbored feelings about the "other side." Journalists who decide to get into PR are often chided for selling their souls to the devil or going to the dark side. Well, let's face it, it's pretty rare that a practitioner goes into journalism, so I haven't heard many analogies for that.

For me, in my work in public relations thus far, I've found the media to be easily pliable, drooling over the chance to get a good story with lots of prepackaged information that won't cost the journalist a lot of time to produce. This is sad, considering the media are supposed to be watchdogs not only of the government, but also of those who would lead the public to view only one side of an issue. However, it's not really the journalists' fault so much as it is the state of the business. Because journalism is a business, the media must sell advertising and its components have had to reduce costs. This leaves little room for sparing time for enterprising news stories, especially in small markets.

As a journalist, my frustration comes from PR practitioners who forget what it was like to be a journalist (or perhaps they never were, and they also were never trained in how to relate to the media). What I mean mostly is that the PR people often forget that reporters are on tight deadlines and when they call for information or quotes, they need it now. Some practitioners seem to think it's fine to take their media relations responsibilities lightly and take hours to get reporters what they need. I hope when I fully transition into PR, I won't forget what kind of frustration this yields for the reporter. If there's a crisis or something potentially detrimental to the organization at hand, I can understand needing time to prepare a perfectly crafted statement. But when the reporter needs a two-line quote about something that is going to be positive or neutral news about the organization... well, there's a reason you're getting paid the big bucks to be the organization's spokesperson — so say something!

So, no matter which side you're on — what are your biggest frustrations with the other side, and what do you think can be done to best improve the relationship so that it flows perfectly for both ends, without compromising the integrity of good journalism or endangering the practitioner's organization's reputation?

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