NEWS ANALYSIS: Defence strategy for clipped copy

Newscounter gives ‘misrepresented’ PROs a right to reply. Sarah Robertson finds opinions on its value divided.

Savoy: many quotes in the story from an aggrieved party put the hotel in a bad light
Savoy: many quotes in the story from an aggrieved party put the hotel in a bad light

Every PRO has experienced disap­pointment when their res­ponse to a story is cut out of the final copy.

Last week’s launch of Newscounter, a web-based service that gives companies a right of reply, promises to give back to the PR community some of the control in a process that often feels heavily weighted in favour of the media.

PROs can respond to stories in which they feel they have been misrepresented on But the most valuable part of Newscounter, for which clients pay £300 a case, is the posting of replies on the comment sections of newspaper and magazine websites.

Newscoun­ter is far from being the only organisation offering media monitoring and blog intervention. But its website also exists to generate comment on the balance of stories, including a feature that invites people to vote for which ‘side’ of the story they are more convinced by. The public is ­also invited to sign online petitions for each story, inviting responses from unquoted players. Responses are then featur­ed on the site free of charge.

The founders have a strong PR track record. Nigel Clarke is a partner at PA agency GJW, while Newscounter’s CEO Matt Cain is a former director at Four Communications. They say the service is not an alternative to the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), but an addition. ‘With 73.5 per cent of complaints to the PCC about misleading coverage, the traditional means of redress are clearly ineffective,’ says Cain.

Stories currently featured include one criticising the Savoy Hotel’s £1,000 charge for a wheelchair ramp for Paralympian Dame Tanni Grey-Thompson. The site does not give the origin of the story, but does include a byline.

A Savoy spokesperson is quoted as saying the hotel is not a public place so is not obliged to provide ­access. But the story had more quotes from the outraged chair of the Romantic Novelists Association, which was forced to pay for the ramp.

Newscounter is one response to the debate about how best to monitor and respond to online coverage.

PRWeek asked four PROs for their views on the relative value of the ser­vice (see below).

The Energy Retail Association
Nicola Bowles (l), head of comms and media relations: Newscounter reminds me of the system Peter Mandelson set up to directly rebut negative stories about the Government. Someone would systematically monitor each day’s press and broadcast outlets and write a response on the Party website. It did slow down previously relentless negative stories, but it took a couple of years.
The issue will be gaining the media community’s respect, so that Newscounter does not fuel the flames of a story. The people behind the service need to ensure they explain the rationale behind it.

Journalists will have the opportunity to respond to the PR responses, which will help to show that it is not a bit-part website, but something with credibility. I don’t think PROs will use the service to replace direct contact with journalists, it is a back-stop for when all else has failed and there is no other form of redress.

Tube Lines
Laura Wallace (r), media relations manager: Newscounter’s online offering is very strong, with services such as getting your messages onto Google. Blogs can be time-consuming in terms of monitoring and understanding their personalities.

Anything to help communicate our side of the story is helpful.
If we were misrepresented in the future, we would consider using it. We have a robust crisis response plan, as you would expect in our industry, and we would consider using this product within that.

I imagine it will be especially useful for smaller organisations that are not actively managing their reputation on a day-to-day basis.

But PROs should always speak to the journalist directly first. I hope they don’t automatically use it as the first response to a negative story. Newscounter shouldn’t put journalists on the defensive as long as the service is not misused.

Spannerworks (digital agency)

Anthony Mayfield (l), head of content and media: This could be useful for people who don’t have an effective online strategy, but I don’t think it will be viable in the long term.

Some of the technical aspects are puzzling; for example, there is no RSS feed, which is fairly fundamental.

The ultimate test is whether it will be useful to corporations.

Offering comment and debate is something the media is already doing. There has never been a greater opportunity to represent yourself – firms now have online access to newspapers to do that.

The value of this service is that it will raise important issues in terms of making people ask if they themselves are doing enough. Holding statements alone are no longer enough.

There are lots of ways to have a right to reply. The Newscounter board is quite heavyweight, but I’ve yet to see its value.

Editorial Intelligence

Julia Hobsbawm, founder: This is a bold initiative and I broadly welcome it. But Newscounter needs to provide clearer guidelines than it does on its website.

It also needs to seek affiliation with the National Union of Journalists and/or the Press Complaints Commission, and it has to articulate its mission statement more clearly.

Editorial Intelligence is more of a data-gathering service compared to this, but I think anything that shares the principles of openness is good.

Newscounter will have to be even-handed in what it rebuts. The service cannot be perceived as a vehicle for spin, but as a one that enables corrections and accuracy.

Most newspapers and their online formats embrace the policies of right to reply and correction already, but this does look like an interesting product.

Click here to join the discussion as Matthew Cain explains more about Newscounter in this week's video podcast
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