Letter - Poor reporting strains PROs' press relations

Six months ago I moved from a regional daily paper to work as a PRO for a large London-based housing association.

Aside from the money, I left journalism after five years because I became disillusioned with the drop in quality at the paper: reporters with less than a year's experience were being put on the newsdesk and work-experience youngsters were being sent to court hearings.

Just months into my PR job and I'm already seeing that this casual approach to often-important stories is blighting much of the local press.

I recently had a call from a local reporter with an enquiry about our plans for a sheltered scheme for elderly residents. I spent 20 minutes explaining how we were planning to invest heavily in the home so we would not have to close it. And what was the headline? 'Pensioners to be evicted by cash-strapped housing company'.

I'm sure all PROs have similar stories, but the way the reporter managed to get the story so incorrect - backed up only by improbable quotes from unnamed residents - is symptomatic of declining standards in the local press.

The article sparked panic among the elderly residents and meetings were needed with them and their families to provide reassurance.

As the purse strings are tightened, salaries remain insultingly low and morale sinks. We cannot expect good local journalists to stick around.

They will move on to better-paid jobs, only to be replaced with another batch of school leavers convinced they are the next Mazher Mahmood. The future for PROs' relationships with the local press is not, I fear, looking good.

James Howell, communications officer, London & Quadrant Housing Trust.

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