Will PR pros ruin newspaper’s ‘digital first’ strategy?

As the Guardian opens its news coverage to the public, this PR pro wonders if his industry will ruin the experiment.

When I first heard that the Guardian would post its daily news list online—basically, a list of stories it’s covering that day and who’s covering it—I was impressed.

I wasn’t sure whether the average reader would care about the Guardian’s newest demonstration of its “digital first” strategy, but I thought it was a great, brave idea.

Then, I got to thinking more about it. How will the list be used by the PR industry?

What if, despite national news editor Dan Roberts’ insistence that journalists won’t “pay much attention to pestering from PR people,” we uncharacteristically ignore this and bombard them with offers of expert opinion related to their news?

Should we PR pros feel we shouldn’t approach journalists with spokespeople or other information, even if it’s relevant? Or should we worry more about whether pressed PR people, desperate to get results for clients and placate bosses, will take advantage of the daily news list to tenuously pitch and in doing so, ruin it for everybody?

For example, the very first news list showed that Jess Shepherd was writing a piece about how “iPads and other new tech [are] flooding into our schools.” I’m sure many PR people could think of ways to shoehorn their clients to fit that particular story, but whether or not they should is another matter.

A reader could, for instance, respond with his thoughts about tech at his kid’s school and instantly prove the news list’s usefulness. Or, and this is how I suspect it may go, 100 vaguely-related tech client pitches will wind Miss Shepherd up to frustration.

One hundred more and we may well have a PR-hating hack on the rampage, with no coffee shop left unturned as she attempts to drown us in our expensive but sensitively sourced skinny lattes.

It’s clear that the Guardian is ready to pull the plug on this whole idea if it doesn’t feel it is working—Roberts says so in the announcement. It remains to be seen whether “bad PRs will absolutely positively definitely ruin it,” as Alex Wilson, an intern at Dynamo PR thinks, or if it’s “one of the greatest successes of the publishing world” as PR consultant and former freelance journalist Sean Fleming thinks.

But, don’t be surprised to see someone at the Guardian blogging about a list of repeat offenders in the coming weeks and months.

Rich Leigh is PR account director at 10 Yetis. He contributes to the company blog, where a version of this article originally ran. Follow him on Twitter @GoodandBadPR.

Topics: PR

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