Journalism vet asks PR pros: Why fight?

In a career transition from news to public relations, the author seeks to fill in the gaps between the two professions. Ingredient No. 1: mutual respect.


An article I came across recently touched nerves on both sides of my brain, creating conflict that’s likely to grow as I transition from out-of-work-and-callous-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 her case: 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, reporters tend to be insensitive at best and outright louts at worst when it comes to understanding the job of the PR professional.

As a former print and broadcast journalist (who now wants to transition to PR), I don’t have any argument with the assertions Bistritz makes. But I believe that problems occur because neither side has sufficient respect for the job done by the other. Therefore, unnecessary conflict arises over the simple issue of control and the natural resentments born out of that perception by both sides.

Like it or not, the majority of news stories are same-day turns, so yes, there are requests for immediate interviews. 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 newsdesk 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 to get one sound bite, one quote, and then be on their way. Rather than use something based on an even basic understanding of the subject, the reporter is OK with guessing—the criterion being more of what sounds good rather than what is contextually or factually correct.

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.

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 tussle.

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, someone should write, “Five Things that Drive Journalism Pros Crazy about PR People.”

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. A version of this article first appeared on CommPR.com.biz.

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Topics: PR

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