Ways journalists hurt themselves in PR

There are several ways journalists hurt themselves in PR. But first, a story.

Back in the 90s, a newspaper reporter worked for me who eventually became a junior-level editor. To say she hated public relations professionals and press releases would be an understatement.

To her, receiving a press release on something was actually a reason not to run it.  I would say she referred to PR professionals as flacks, but the fact of the matter is her reference was much worse.

This standard applied even to local businesses in our small town. The local insurance agency sending us news that they won an award, or the local “on the square” clothing store doubling the size of their location were not reasons for a press release, though if no release was issued, they’d make good local business stories.

In the end, the president of a local marketing agency who represented a number of the paper’s largest advertisers complained to the publisher. More than that, when she needed a business source for a story, there were local companies that simply would not work with her.

A clear example of how journalists hurt themselves in the PR world.

I never understood her stance against all things public relations. As I’ve mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve encountered many a problem among PR folks, but by and large I got along well with them.

journalists hurting themselves

What I’ve encountered

So here are things I’ve actually seen journalists do that damage their relationship with public relations professionals and likely hurt their reporting/beat.

  1. Not treating PR pros like professionals. Working on the PR side, I once had a finance journalist for a major finance news network call me a “stupid f*#$.” As a result of a pitch.  Why was this necessary?
  2. Failing to understand we may not have a choice. The “stupid f*#$” comment resulted from a pitch I was given absolutely no choice in making. Even after I explained to the client and my bosses that this was a bad idea, I was told to make it anyway. We just had to have “major media hits” and we were forced to pitch.
  3. Assuming the relationship must be adversarial. This isn’t always the case. A little tension is good. Heck, its probably warranted. However, there are journalists out there who assume PR professionals are hostiles entering the home territory. Play professional and understand everyone has a job to do. No need to be mean (see point #1).
  4. Assuming PR people are always selling. Another journalist friend of mine once said PR people always want something. But that’s not always the case. I still remember a PR guy in Miami calling me – we’d chatted on a couple story pitches that just weren’t right for our newspaper – to mention he heard our town’s name mentioned at a Chamber of Commerce event in Miami. It led to a break in the biggest story I’ve ever worked on and helped stop the fraudulent sale of city-owned property. He didn’t want anything but simply was letting me know because it was odd for a small town to be mentioned in passing at a major city Chamber event thousands of miles away.
  5. Jealousy. I know journalists can be jealous of PR people who don’t have to go cover city council meetings, sit up all night writing about elections, and who are making substantially more money. I’ve also heard journalists talk about how jealous PR folks are of them being “in the middle of the action.” The grass isn’t always greener, but if the jealousy is too much, join the “other side.”
  6. Related to jealousy is an assumption they can’t do it. There’s a common phrase, “those who can, do, and those who can’t, teach.” I’ve known far too many journalists who assume people who work in PR couldn’t handle being a journalist. Many have worked in journalism and were good at it. It’s just a false assumption.

These conceptions or misconceptions serve one purpose – they hamper the professional relationship between the journalist and the public relations person.

Journalists need to understand PR professionals are professionals, usually with education and training. And yes, while someone in PR may (and should) have their clients’ desires in the forefront, it doesn’t mean those desires don’t align with journalistic goals.

A strong relationship with a PR professional is important for several reasons. It most definitely can lead to a wider range of sources, access to more expertise, better stories, and better tips. In other words, a good PR pro can make it easier to do a better job of covering your beat.

Just be nice. Be understanding. And be professional. Heck, treat them like a human. It makes a world of difference.