OK, I spend a lot of time on this blog suggesting strategies that public relations officers can take to get the best from journalists. It doesn’t just cut one way, though, so here are five things I’ve seen journalists do that really aren’t fair – come on, guys, we’re better than this…
- Giving a deliberately short deadline. You’ve written a story against the interests of a particular company, you know you’ve got to get their perspective to make it balanced – so you give them about five minutes to respond and put “the company declined to comment”. Technically, you reason, you asked for a balancing comment so they can’t touch you. Nonetheless, you knew they weren’t going to be able to respond.
- Requesting review DVDs, clothing, whatever, that you know you won’t review. A colleague had an editor who used regularly to ask her PA to get her a box set of whichever favourite TV programme she fancied watching in bed – the fact that the magazine didn’t run reviews bothered neither her nor, apparently, the PR people involved. Granted sometimes stuff changes; I once went to Scotland at the expense of a development agency up there and had a very nice time while the national newspaper on whose behalf I was going was, unknown to me, shelving the supplement for which I was writing. It happens. Nonetheless, deliberately getting hold of stuff for personal use without any intention of writing about it is wasting other people’s resources.
- Being rude on the phone. I hear about this a lot in my media training sessions. A PR person calls up and the journalist is just obnoxious. Look, I get that the dice are loaded in our favour. I understand that the PR community tends to need us more than we need them because we control the outlets for their stories and there are too many stories. But that’s precisely why it’s up to us to be polite and professional rather than take advantage. I understand the generation below mine (I’m 50) is rather better at this politeness thing than a number of my contemporaries; we should be embarrassed rather than proud of this.
- Not keeping appointments, in person or on the phone. A subset of the above really. Again, stuff changes, that’s fine, deadlines get moved, a massive story comes up and it has to be written or you’re fired. That’s not a problem – but how long does a quick text take?
- General self-importance. Self-confidence is vital, particularly if you’re a freelance like me – you have to be able to look in the mirror and tell yourself you’re excellent. Overconfidence is different. I’ve seen journalists wander out in the middle of a presentation, to be found eating the buffet lunch when everybody else left. I’ve seen journalists talk over the presentation to which they were supposed to be listening and not let the interviewee get a word in. I’ve seen journalists threaten PR people with “no coverage”. We’ve established my age and yes, I appreciate it can be frustrating to see someone less experienced claiming something as brand new and exciting when you saw it fail 15 years ago, but that’s the job. Challenge by all means, probe and write something authoritative – but never, ever assume you’re the story and whatever you do don’t act as if you’re the most important person in the room.
If any particularly brave PR people would like to highlight their own “favourite” journalist foibles as a comment they’d be welcome – excluding any of mine, of course!
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