Journalism Vet Asks PR Pros: Why Fight – Don’t We Really Need Each Other in the End?
By James Zambroski, Professional Writer, Former Broadcaster
An article I came across recently on CommPRO.Biz touched a nerve on both sides of my brain, creating conflict that’s likely to grow as I transition my career from out-of-work-and-calloused-veteran journalist to talented-but-new-guy in public relations.
In the piece, “The Other Side of Media Rants: Five Things That Drive PR Pros Crazy about Journalists,” Nancy Bistritz opines that reporters don’t have much of a clue about how the public relations world really works. She offers these points to make that argument: Reporters fail to fact check (I quadruple-checked the spelling of her name); they demand immediate interviews; they aren’t prepared, which leads to dumb assumptions and finally, that reporters tend to be insensitive at best and outright louts at worst when it comes to understanding the job of the public relations professional.
As a former print and broadcast journalist (who now wants to transition to PR), I don’t have any argument with the assertions Ms. Bistritz makes. But I believe (based on my experience) that problems occur because neither side has sufficient respect for the job done by the other. And therefore unnecessary conflict arises over the simple issue of control and the natural resentments borne out of that perception by both sides.
Like it or not, the vast majority of news stories are same-day turns, so yes, there are requests for immediate interviews. Absolutely, that’s not ideal but it has become the nature of the news beast and not the fault of the journalist who’s being flogged by the desk to meet deadline.
At the same time, there’s no excuse for a journalist who is unprepared. Unfortunately, the profession is becoming populated by quick-turn hucksters who want one sound bite, one quote and then be on their way. So rather than using something based on an even basic understanding of the subject, the reporter is okay with guessing; the criteria being more of what sounds good rather than contextually or factually correct.
And while many organizations require an intermediary (the PR person) between source and journalist, that transaction would be a lot smoother if the PR person were more empathetic to the chafing inherent in the perception that information is being filtered, controlled, spun, disseminated or (overly) influenced by the PR department. So many times, my interactions with PR people would’ve gone smoother if the company policy regarding contact had been discussed, explained, even schmoozed rather than shoved down my throat with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude. My boss, my viewers, my readers wanted to hear it from the source, not a talking head.
What often gets missed in these interactions is that PR/media contact should be a win-win situation instead of a who’s-in-charge tete.
Sure, there are unethical, untalented, unapologetic and unforgiving reporters working the beat. But the same is true for PR people; I suppose to be fair and balanced someone should write “Five Things that Drive Journalism Pros Crazy about PR People.”
And I’ll try to remember (i.e. back up) all of this when I get my first call from a journalist with a deadline and an attitude.
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