Kate Nicholas: New media confusion and old media gripes

Two thirds of the way through PRWeek’s PR and the Media conference last week, a voice from the audience pleaded for ‘no more mentions of the word podcast’.

Admittedly, the word had been mentioned at least 30 times by this point, along with that other favourite, blogging.

The Times editor Robert Thomson set the tone when he cut straight to the chase and began to talk about the importance of the internet to contemporary journalism. But curiously, despite the obvious incomprehension in some quarters, it wasn't until the second day that a delegate had the guts to ask what a podcast actually was.

A brave move, but also a disquieting admission. Jeremy Paxman is doing it and The Daily Telegraph is busy hiring podcasters. Even the most humble PRO could be podcasting on behalf of a client, but this new media phenomenon seems to have eluded a proportion of the industry . To be fair, I am not making this judgement entirely on the basis of last week's conference. It is about the third or fourth time recently that I have attended or spoken at an event concerned with the state of the media nation, only to recognise with a sense of horror the look of blank incomprehension in the audience when media convergence is mentioned.

A rather worrying disconnection seems to be developing between the media obsessions of broadband, mobile delivery and convergence, and the business of day-to-day PR.

The problem isn't just that some PROs – who should be experts on new media – admit to never having read a blog. There are also signs that many aren't even getting the basics right. While media executives waxed lyrical about the implications of a brave new world without print or broadcast boundaries, some speakers delivered remarkably unreconstructed views about the media's relationship with PR.

Criticism ranged from inappropriately timed telephone calls and failure to return calls within deadline to scatter-gun press releases, the evils of email, and the sheer pitfalls of getting on the phone without knowing what the hell you are talking about. It sounded uncomfortably like an introductory lecture for PR undergraduates.

There were doubtless a few ruffled feathers among more senior delegates, who might have considered the feedback from journalists rather Neanderthal. But journalists still feel the need to rant about PROs' failure to understand their needs – and that's before you add podcasts to the mix.

kate.nicholas@haynet.com

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