OPINION: Hypocrisy of press over PR case studies

Do national newspaper features editors ever actually come into contact with the outside world these days? I'm not talking about those reporters who probably see more real life in one week than most of us could stomach in a lifetime, but those journalists whose task it is to humanise their title by providing the kind of 'lifestyle' items that bridge the gap between serious news and the growing competition from the glossies.

It is these sections that, particularly at this time of year, seek to convince us it is possible to give up the rat race for a stimulating existence running a goat farm in rural France or to lose 20lb living on a diet of bananas. These sections also embody one of the great hypocrisies of national features journalism.

The term 'public relations' is now one of the most derogatory a journalist can throw at an issue. I've lost count of the number of times an incident has been labelled a 'public relations disaster' in lieu of any serious analysis. And woe betide any PR practitioner who fails to live up to the high expectations of British journalists, for they shall be vilified across acres of newsprint in these very sections. Few who work in PR can forget Bryan Appleyard's extraordinary diatribe against the public relations industry in The Sunday Times last year, in which he referred to PROs as 'scum'.

So it's curious then that - given the sanctimonious tone adopted by many journalists - when it comes to finding case studies for their so-called 'human interest' stories, a disproportionate number of the men and women featured turn out to be 'public relations executives'. A cursory glance at the papers over the last couple of weeks produced these nuggets: the Daily Mirror featured a case study on music PR Sarah Taylor Cox's atypical Yuletide plans; the Daily Mail focused on not one, but two, PROs pre-party weight-loss programmes; The Sunday Times found PR director Jan Turner's bargain home in the sun; and The Independent picked up on HMV head of press Gennaro Castaldo's memories of teenage rebellion. Even the FT turned up 'good-lifer' Sophie Spyropoulos, who has opened a PR division for a marketing firm in Leeds, and Paris-based Tatiana Berger's thoughts on at-home spa days. Believe me, judging by the pile of cuttings on my desk, I could go on.

When the search for genuine case studies among members of the elusive public becomes too arduous, it seems that most papers are all too willing to put aside their disdain for PR practitioners. The public must sometimes wonder at the remarkable insularity of the media village.

The moral of the story? Journalists in glass offices should refrain from throwing stones.

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