Editorial: Tech journalism also has a crisis

It seems that barely a week goes by without another critical piece in the media about the explosion of hi-tech PR. Howard Kurtz wrote in The Washington Post last week that ’the relentless hyping of Internet companies is driving (journalists) nuts.’ And in Red Herring’s May issue, a seven-page expose titled ’Crisis in PR’ argues that most clients aren’t getting what they pay for because of a lack of talent in this sector.

It seems that barely a week goes by without another critical piece in the media about the explosion of hi-tech PR. Howard Kurtz wrote in The Washington Post last week that ’the relentless hyping of Internet companies is driving (journalists) nuts.’ And in Red Herring’s May issue, a seven-page expose titled ’Crisis in PR’ argues that most clients aren’t getting what they pay for because of a lack of talent in this sector.

It seems that barely a week goes by without another critical piece

in the media about the explosion of hi-tech PR. Howard Kurtz wrote in

The Washington Post last week that ’the relentless hyping of Internet

companies is driving (journalists) nuts.’ And in Red Herring’s May

issue, a seven-page expose titled ’Crisis in PR’ argues that most

clients aren’t getting what they pay for because of a lack of talent in

this sector.



There is undoubtedly a dearth of PR talent right now, a growing

underbelly of flab and incompetence that feeds on the excesses of the

hi-tech economy and damages the reputation of the true PR pros. But

articles like these still betray an age-old uneasiness towards the PR

profession.



Kurtz says, ’For a century or so, journalists have regarded most

publicists as low-ranking inhabitants of the media food chain.’ But

while he acknowledges that PR is moving up the chain, no matter how hard

the media tries to delve into the ’crisis’ in an objective fashion, it

just can’t seem to come to this subject without displaying that

century-old bias.



Aside from its proven success, a fundamental factor in the growth of PR

is the growth of the media itself: new newspaper sections, hi-tech

glossies (including Red Herring), tech trades and Web sites are all

demanding fresh content and angles and exclusives. PR helps to satiate

the media’s appetite. That it doesn’t always come up with the right

’filler’ is no more surprising than the fact that quite a lot of the

content isn’t exactly riveting either.



If there were only one angle, one great story to tell, there would be

little need for PR. But one journalist’s Spam is another journalist’s

story. Perhaps it’s time for magazines like Red Herring to start looking

at the quality of the stories that go out in the name of hi-tech

journalism.





Dot-coms need real PR after plunge



The PR industry rode the back of the NASDAQ’s record run, but the ride -

if not over - has certainly gotten quite bumpy.



The NASDAQ sank almost 10% on April 14, capping a week that saw a 25.3%

plunge. The tech-heavy index is now down 34.2% from its March high, well

beyond the 20% drop needed to signal a bear market. As The Wall Street

Journal noted, ’investors bought (tech stocks) more for their momentum

than their intrinsic value, and that momentum fed on itself.’ PR played

an integral part of that momentum-building, creating buzz in the media

while IR teams convinced analysts that Nebulous.com’s stock had lots of

that ’intangible’ called potential. Who needs profits, or even revenues

for that matter?



Well, it looks as if reality has kicked in. Forrester predicts that

within 20 months, most online categories will only have three market

leaders.



Some VCs are telling start-ups to rethink their marketing budgets. And

as pros argue (see p11), because PR provides more bang for the buck,

it’s unlikely that business will dry up. But in a bear market, dot-coms

can’t live on potential anymore. PR pros, it’s time to earn your

retainers.



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