ANALYSIS: In the PR exec-media relationship, journalists can reallydish it out, but can't seem to take it

Several months ago, I created a new section of my website dedicated to PR people's complaints about the journalists they're forced to deal with. It's not that I have anything against members of the fourth estate, having been one myself for more than 20 years, but I have always wondered why even the most experienced PR pros seem so concerned about what reporters think of them.

Several months ago, I created a new section of my website dedicated to PR people's complaints about the journalists they're forced to deal with. It's not that I have anything against members of the fourth estate, having been one myself for more than 20 years, but I have always wondered why even the most experienced PR pros seem so concerned about what reporters think of them.

I have a particularly abiding hatred of those lunches at which representatives of the media are invited to tell PR people what they're doing wrong.

(I'm not even going to talk about the "whack-a-flack site devised by a New England PR firm, which gave journalists an opportunity to hit cartoon PR people over the head with a hammer.)

But mostly, the new section of my website was inspired by a page at the Poynter.org site. (Poynter helps train reporters, and provides a terrific selection of media news and gossip.) On the site, reporters could tell stories of PR incompetence - misspelled names, mis-directed press releases, unreturned phone calls, and the like.

The intent of this page appeared to be the condemnation of our entire profession through the use of a handful of anecdotes that stressed worst practices - a familiar journalistic technique. My experience suggests that there are at least as many incompetent reporters out there as there are incompetent PR people, and what was sauce for the goose was also sauce for the gander.

I didn't get a lot of responses, until Poynter found out about the page and linked to it. At that point, a bunch of reporters started reading.

They were offended, not only by the criticisms of their colleagues, but also by a line in the preamble suggesting that reporters were picking on people "without whom they could not do their jobs."

Said one, "Yeah, boy it would be impossible to do my job if there weren't PR people. I'd sure hate to go straight to a source to get the information.

I'd be lost with no one to spin it for me, or obfuscate."

The assumption is that without professional PR intermediaries, reporters could simply pick up the phone and get right through to the CEO. A more likely scenario is that without PR people to facilitate the process, their calls would go unreturned. And without PR training, most CEOs would be wise to avoid media interviews altogether.

But what really struck me about the response was the same words could have been written by any PR pro: "Boy, I couldn't do my job if there weren't reporters. I'd sure hate to go straight to the audience to get my story out. I'd be lost with no one to distort it for me, insert their own prejudices into it."

It's too bad PR people do need reporters, and vice versa. And it's too bad so many reporters are so troubled by it.

- Paul Holmes has spent the past 15 years writing about the PR business for publications including PRWeek, Inside PR, and Reputation Management.

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