When the PR consultants start dictating news coverage – everyone loses. Even the PR consultants and the brands they represent.
That’s because the value of journalism is its objectivity. If journalism loses objectivity it loses credibility – as well as its value. And right now, journalism is in the midst of a crisis of credibility. There are several reasons for this, but one of the big ones is a loss of control to PR consultants.
Simply point, at this stage of the game, the PR consultants are better, smarter and more experienced than the journalists.
PR consultants are two steps ahead. They know the weaknesses and understand the strengths of journalists. They also know that journalism is in flux. Losing readers, losing money and reducing head count. Seasoned veterans are being replaced by young untested talent. The youngsters – like the replacement referees in the NFL – are getting bullied by the PR consultants.
No where is this more evident than in political reporting. New York Times columnist David Carr this week lifted the veil on the ugly practice of quotation approval that has become standard in Washington D.C., but is also now part of business reporting. This is the practice of having quotes reviewed and approved by PR consultants or they can’t be used.
As Carr noted:
“It used to be that American businesses either told reporters to go away or told them what they wanted to know. Now, a reporter trying to interview a business source is confronted by a phalanx of factotums, preconditions and sometimes a requirement that quotations be approved. What pops out of that process isn’t exactly news and isn’t exactly a news release, but contains elements of both.”
No one wins with this approach. Readers get watered down, message-laden copy rather than compelling stories.
There has always been tension between journalists and PR professionals – hacks vs. flacks. I’ve experienced it from both sides of the table as a newspaper reporter and as a PR consultant. The tension is real and it can occasionally can slip into hostility. Obviously, hostility is a bad thing, but the tension isn’t.
It keeps both the journalists and the PR consultants on their toes. Journalists need to be alert, skeptical, and driven by the facts. PR consultants need to be honest, forthright, and helpful. When one side isn’t doing their job then problems rise. Abuses occur. Bad practices get introduced.
Journalism – and journalists – need to fight back. They need to work with PR consultants, but not be dictated by them. Journalism isn’t a messaging document. If it isn’t authentic and honest then it loses its value.
What do you think?