Interview: Jon Friedman

Jon Friedman, whose "Media Web" column appears online three times a week, is one of the US' more ubiquitous media writers.

Jon Friedman, whose "Media Web" column appears online three times a week, is one of the US' more ubiquitous media writers.

He began as a sportswriter for his junior-high-school paper, and worked for USA Today, Investor's Daily, BusinessWeek, and Bloomberg, among others, before landing at MarketWatch.

PRWeek: What are your thoughts on the future of the internet and traditional media?

Jon Friedman: I don't think it will kill it, but it's definitely a legitimate threat. I think both media are here to stay - the traditional media stumbling along in its age-old, time-honored traditions, and the web offering convenience, lower prices, and more services. It's really up to the mainstream media to respond to the challenge. [But] print's not going anywhere. You can't read a computer screen on a train or a bus.

PRWeek: Do you see the current debate over anonymous sources in journalism having an actual impact on reporting practices?

Friedman: Yes. The Newsweek case was so well-documented that it can't be overlooked. And coming on top of the CBS story and The New York Times panel, in which the paper said it would make itself more responsive to ordinary readers, I think these events will force [all] editors to examine the way they report the news. My bottom line in all of this is simple: If you have the goods, whether by anonymous sources or on the record, then go with the story. If you don't have the goods, don't go with the story.

PRWeek: How well do you think Newsweek handled its own PR?

Friedman: I think it did very well. [Newsweek's communications director] Ken Weine is a smart guy. He's sensitive to the company, the magazine, and the readers. I think he and [editor] Mark Whitaker did a good job in explaining their position.

PRWeek: Do you find that media companies have an aversion to doing PR for themselves?

Friedman: I find media companies are among the worst people to cover. They're the most press-shy, vague, and sometimes-hostile companies I've ever seen. I covered Wall Street during the insider-trading scandals in the 1980s, and these companies were far more responsive and far [easier] to deal with than the media companies have been in the past couple of years, particularly since the Jayson Blair episode.

The media corporations, their executives, and PR folks, don't do themselves any favors by hiding behind "no comment." Everyone has to comment completely and on the record in all situations. It doesn't do any harm at all to tell the truth and speak your mind. The best thing a company can do is make the public understand what happened and why it won't happen again.

PRWeek: What advice would you give to PR people?

Friedman: Make your CEO available as much as possible, on the record, for as long as you need to make people understand your position. Don't hide behind 'no comment,' and don't be vague.

[Unfortunately,] they're not doing too well. It's very disappointing. It's very ironic, too. You figure, these people cover the IBMs, Microsofts, and GEs of the world, and they hold these companies and the government accountable at all times. Yet when they make a mistake and need to explain themselves, they run for the hills. It's embarrassing to the profession.

Name: Jon Friedman

Outlet: MarketWatch

Title: "Media Web" columnist

Preferred contact method: Jfriedman@marketwatch.com

Website: www.marketwatch.com.

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