THINKPIECE: Warning to all PR practitioners out there: Ethics aremaking headlines once again

If you like your trends hitting you square on the head, you

couldn't top one recent Monday in The New York Times' authoritative

media-business section.

On the front page: the fascinating saga of top staffers at The Hollywood

Reporter resigning after being blocked by the publisher from running an

expose on another staffer's purported misdeeds. Inside: word of

settlement in the case of a newspaper business columnist who'd been

punished for alleged improper stock trading - but only after the story

ran elsewhere.

Welcome to the latest round of heightened ethics sensitivity among

journalists and media outlets. What does it mean for PR execs?


I see today's new ethical awareness as largely rooted in the

proliferation of media. Today, everything's a story. Live in a glass

house? Someone is watching - and scribbling. Live in a brick house?

Someone's spying down your chimney with a digital camera. Media

organizations know they too had better be on the up and up - or it'll

all be on some Web site within hours.

Like it or not, the newsroom often views PR folks as sirens of

temptation: all those freebies, exclusives with questionable strings,

and other dubious goodies (not to mention the occasional mis-leading or

outright bogus press release). So when the media start examining their

ethics, you'd better believe they'll scrutinize how they interact with

PR execs. Consider these standards of journalistic ethics. Ask yourself

where you stand:

1. Your favorite reporter may accept your "gift" or a favor - but your

offering it may become the story when someone else finds out - even if

it's intangible, like dangling an exclusive tomorrow in return for

softening a damaging story today.

2. Your clever deal to grant one outlet an embargoed exclusive may blow

up in your face - not by a rival pub outscooping your choice, but by

your chosen reporter's editor declaring that she will decide when it's


3. Those "independent experts" you line up to bolster your story - if

they're getting paid and it's not disclosed, that may become the


4. All your unabashedly self-serving press releases are of less and less

value to the media. Journalists know they add value most when they apply

their own critical judgments to the hype tidal wave. Deliver what they

need - the tools and information to determine themselves that your

product is a winner.

The new ethics of journalism really boil down to old truths: be up

front, be truthful, and never say or do anything you don't want to see

published in tomorrow's paper.

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