A cherished convention in the industry is the journalist panel, an event where PR people pay good money to listen to a bunch of reporters tell them how much they dislike working with PR people. These reporters sometimes come equipped with a long list of pet peeves or, even worse, a blacklist of individuals, companies, or firms they refuse to accept pitches from going forward.
Reporter panels that are not properly guided will frequently degenerate in this direction, even those that start promisingly enough. Of course, there are some reporter events that are everything they should be – informative, insightful, and focused on tangible takeaways for the audience.
But these good panels tend to be the exception rather than the rule. The irony, too, is that journalist panels almost invariably draw a good crowd – which is one reason why there are so many of them out there. Why do communicators run for opportunities to take this abuse?
Even more puzzling is why PR pros don't seize control of these forums to ask some tough questions themselves. Reporters only view one narrow aspect of the PR job, but a journalist's work, his or her “product,” is on display for all to see.
If communicators really want to gain value out of these transactions, and counter the preconceptions that journalists have about the profession, they should spend a little time researching these panel participants, and prepare questions that challenge coverage of a certain issue, or ask for follow up on a key story that reporter worked on.
Also, deeper questions should be raised about how these journalists are handling their jobs in the new world order of social media, and under the financial constraints that most media outlets are facing.
Attendees should not settle for pat Q&As about how they'd rather get e-mails than phone calls, but demand that these reporters (who benefit enormously, by the way, from these self-branding platforms) offer more insight into the dynamics of the profession, which has a huge impact on how PR pros operate.
PR pros work hard to earn the respect of reporters, and should be holding journalists to as high a standard. These forums present an opportunity to gain real understanding, and in a face-to-face way actually work to shift these kneejerk perceptions that reporters have about PR into a more realistic and productive framework.