As a former journalist and PR pro for more than 35 years, nearly 25 at Burson-Marsteller, where I traveled the world as a media advisor to foreign government officials, and also played key roles on the most significant US and international projects, I have seen the relationship between PR practitioners and journalists drastically change, and not for the better.
Unfortunately, the trust factor between news and PR people may be at an all time low. Much of the civility between journalists toward PR people has disappeared as veteran newspeople retire and newcomers take their place. PR calls to journalists are often given short shrift or met with rudeness and untruths. Gone are the days when most journalists realized that PR people were just doing their job and treated them with civility.
Here are a few specific examples of how times have changed:
- In the years before reporters were tied to their computers, PR people and journalists would get to know each other at lunch or office meetings. This resulted in a bond of trust. The personal touch has largely been replaced by computer conversations, even when a PR person is fortunate enough to get a listening ear.
- Many veteran news people, who would welcome an unusual angle from a PR person, have retired and been replaced by "do-it-by-the-book" journalism grads. That's why so many stories in different outlets mirror each other.
- When I was a journalist, my first editor gave me the following instructions: “If someone calls you with a story idea, hear them out. They might have a good one. And if you tell someone you'll call them back, do so.”
- In those days, reporters, editors, and producers would always listen to your pitch before making a decision. Today, too often, PR people hear the following: “I'm on deadline, can't speak;” “Have to hang up, I thought you were someone I was waiting to hear from on a story I'm working on;” or the ludicrous, “Send me a one or two line e-mail about the subject and if I'm interested I'll get back to you.”
This is not good journalism. This is, “I-don't-want-to-listen journalism.” In my case, as probably with others, it has resulted in editors, after seeing a story in a rival outlet, asking, “Why didn't you give us a shot at that story?”
My answer is always the same. “I did. You didn't listen.”
PR consultant Arthur Solomon, is a former journalist and Burson-Marsteller Senior VP/Senior Counselor. He can be reached at 914-472-6598 or firstname.lastname@example.org.