ANN ARBOR, MI: Research undertaken by Bob Williams, an ethics fellow at the Poynter Institute for journalism, has documented what he describes as "clear evidence that the use of spokespeople as primary news sources has shot up in recent years."The study was conducted by searching the top 50 US newspapers for references to "spokesperson,
In 2000, those terms appeared 530,101 times - a staggering increase of 81% over 1995.
"As a reporter, you look around the newsroom, and the tendency has become to talk to spokespeople rather than to even try to get to the principals,
said Williams, who is on leave from his job as senior reporter at The News & Observer in Raleigh, NC. "The relationship between reporter and PR person needs to be better defined,
he added. "If this stirs some debate, that would be healthy."
PR leaders felt that Williams' findings hold important implications for the industry.
"When the only source made available is someone from corporate communications, that's not the best situation - senior executives have to build relationships with journalists, too
said Alex Stanton, CEO of Stanton Crenshaw.
PRSA president Joann Killeen emphasized that PR pros ought to turn the trend into an opportunity. "I think the onus is really on us to reach out and work collaboratively with these editors and reporters,
"One thing that would improve the relationship in the long term would be for media members to sit down with their PR contacts once in a while for informational interviews,
added Kathy Cripps, president of the Council of PR Firms.
"We're more likely to be candid with reporters if we can trust them to use the information we give them appropriately."