Another Aggrieved PR Person: In the Name of the Late Rodney King – Can We All Get Along?
By James Zambroski, Professional Writer, Former Broadcaster
Chris Parente might have a legitimate beef about slipshod journalism somewhere in his portfolio, but the example he cites in his June 17th editorial (Stop Pillorying PR: Let’s Call Out Crappy Reporting for a Change) doesn’t seem like much. Plus, the article in itself has a couple of inconsistencies not to be ignored.
I hesitate to get into a tit-for-tat on this subject, having written already about the need of journalists and PR people to peacefully co-exist for the good of all mankind (the article is here). Right. But credible is credible and Parente, the Managing Director at Strategic Communications Group offers text that goes straight to the heart of the unnecessary conflict between PR and media.
His premise is that PR firms frequently get called out for sub-standard work but that journalist rarely do.
Sorry, that’s offensive for reasons I’ll state shortly.
But, to be fair, when Parente wrote near the top that “every competent communicator has been the victim of a poorly done story on a client,” I guess it was obvious where this was going. Victim? How demeaning to real victims, those who’ve suffered through no fault of their own in this world. I might’ve said ‘every competent communicator has been the subject of a….” On the other hand, perhaps the word choice accurately reflects the author’s mindset, that or maybe Strategic could use a strong copy editor.
Good journalism counts credibility as a major building block of its existence. Mistakes get made but most print media outlets (where the mistake endures in hardcopy) quickly make corrections. I would point to the USA Today (about which Parente specifically complains) correction page, editor and separate email as evidence. The New York Times is well-known for correcting factual errors. In my own case working for Gannet at the Courier-Journal in Louisville, mistakes I made were corrected with the following prefix: “Because of a reporter’s error…..” That public call-out was a fine motivator to be careful—and correct. In fact, when I trod the grapes, more than three such errors a year generally meant no merit raise following one’s evaluation.
Parente says he got nowhere when he sought a correction. Using his accounting of the alleged errors as my only source to make judgment, there was no response from USA Today because the ombudsman deemed (as did I) that the alleged errors were non-existent, open to interpretation or minor.
Specifically, Parente says a “new” service announced by an executive actually began in 2001 and that the story omitted that the direct competitor at which the executive takes a shot was his former employer.
Odds are that the executive tweaked the 2001 concept enough to make it “new;” that he formerly worked for a competitor (Parente’s client) that he now bad-mouthed doesn’t play much into the story in this case, apparently. Sour grapes maybe, bad taste, clearly. But a factual or perceptional error in leaving it out? Hardly.
That the story was written by a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist of 30 + years experience, a man who has won numerous additional major awards in the industry is significant. Yes, Byron Acohido can make mistakes (as any human on the planet) but the ones cited herein are tiny (rhymes with whiny).
So with no real errors to correct, the only thing a good PR guy can do is call the reporting “shoddy,” “crappy,” “not worth a darn” and “boy, did we get screwed on that one.”
Parente lauds that he went after Acohido and USA Today on his personal blog and encourages other injured PR types to do the same. Fair enough. But on the next breath, the legitimacy of the whole premise flushes down the drain: “Make sure your reaction is in strategy for the client—is the media source worth responding to?”
Where are the ethics in that? If, as the title herein suggests, the idea is to “call out crappy reporting for a change,” then how can you justify picking and choosing? Crappy reporting, as he first suggests, victimizes PR people and they’re not going to take it anymore. Really? It sounds like it won’t be taken anymore if such harrumphing scores with the client, or forgive me, as a strategy to mollify the client’s reaction to bad press.
And then, in the last six paragraphs of the piece, Mr. Parente positions mainstream media as really not being worth the time. If that’s true, where’s the beef?
Rather than countering with anything using the word “pout,” I’ll just point to Warren Buffet and the Hathaway buy as an argument against.
Look, in the end both PR people and journalists can nit pick problems with their relationships to each other and the industry as a whole. But where does the repetitive motion of merely identifying the problem get anyone?
When we’re looking for a poster child for shoddy, crappy reporting, let’s pick one with some glaring errors, not ones merely self-serving to make a weak point. If the product is indeed shoddy, one would expect market forces to win out; demand will drop, the product will adjust or go away. At very least, crappy and shoddy will hasten the end in a news world grown exponentially competitive.
In the meantime, Al Gore and the rest of technology has given us a platform on which we can all shine with our own point of view. Provided the writing’s good and the reporting accurate; some things never change.
James Zambroski has 20 years experience as a professional writer and is a two-time EMMY Award winning former TV broadcaster and print reporter now seeking a new career in public relations in Tampa, Fla. You can learn more about him professionally on his LinkedIn profile at: http://www.linkedin.com/in/jameszambroski and personally on his Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/?sk=welcome#!/?sk=nf
Published: June 19, 2012 By: