Reuters controversy is a lesson for comms pros

During recent VNR controversies, journalists took to columns, Poynter forums, chat rooms, and punditry programs to decry the practice of misleading the public through inadequate disclosure.

During recent VNR controversies, journalists took to columns, Poynter forums, chat rooms, and punditry programs to decry the practice of misleading the public through inadequate disclosure.

But journalists are just as susceptible to shades of gray. Reuters is now in a controversy that originally began - at least popularly - when Charles Johnson, of the blog Little Green Footballs, caught a Reuters photographer doctoring photos by adding smoke plumes from the Israeli-Lebanon war. Critics have questioned whether the doctoring was anti-Israeli bias.

Media pundits and disgruntled readers will get a chance to weigh in against such abrogation of readers' trust, and should. But it's wrong to let the discussion the communications industry needs to have get buried by analysis of political bias in journalism. Reuters has admitted the pictures were doctored and fired the offending photographer. The PR world should be equally unambiguous in denouncing this action on the grounds of journalistic ethics.

PR pros and journalists work together on stories that become articles - a fact that can still make the layperson uneasy. Without strong repudiation of deliberate fraud among media counterparts, any hope of continuing to increase trust of the PR industry will be lost.

One of the most discouraging byproducts to emerge from the rise of blogs is that some journalists are commenting now on their increased vigilance and adherence to fact, knowing that any factual error or even tenuous interpretation will be more scrutinized than ever. That only reinforces the idea that reporters are, by their very nature, sloppy and inattentive to facts.

Communications pros have a great responsibility to get the facts right at all times. PR has a role to play in helping its journalistic brethren emerge intact from this latest trust problem, by helping it focus on the right messages and reinforcing credibility as its most important asset.

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