Defending The Cozy Media Relationship

Author: Richard Media April 24, 2009
Rumblings in places like the WSJ and on popular sites, blogs and push newsletters are sounding the alarms about “comfortable relationships” between media relations pros and the media. As the stories go, PR people and journalists cut deals for access to information and sources that compromise objectivity and cloud otherwise fantastic or fine editorial judgment, resulting in shoddy — or at least suspect— reporting.

This would be amusing if it wasn’t so inaccurate. If the people who casually promote this view did some research beyond the simplistic and actually spoke with gen-u-ine PR professionals and journalists, they would get facts that paint an entirely different picture.

Respect? Yes. Pander? No.

When I consider how PR pros and journalists relate, I do not think “snug” or “secure.” Adversarial? Often, unfortunately. Volatile? Sure, sometimes. We experience mutual admiration, mutual distrust, and all things in-between.

Think of that arrogant teammate on your high school football team or marching band. You hated his attitude; he always hogged the showers and his locker was surrounded by The Most Popular People. But you respected his talents and understood that to achieve the common goal, you needed to coexist and work productively together.

This is the essence of PR professional/journalist and “influencer” relationships: You’re a pain. I’m a pain. But we both have a job to do, so let’s overlook our differences and make this the best darn story it can be!

To the extent that we PR types can help with knowledge or education that contributes to a good article—that is, we don’t waste journalists’ time, and they don’t waste ours—the relationships work well. Right?

PR folks do not expect special treatment for info or access to sources. We know all too well that even implying that the reporter’s viewpoint is for sale would surely spell the end of that relationship. Even bloggers (the good ones) are not being sold –or sold out.

So, no, slaying the PR professional/journalist relationship is not the path to pristine news coverage. Understanding that professional relationships are just that—and drama is best reserved for daytime television—surely.

Twitter @laermer for more like the above. And happy April showers bring May flowers.