R-E-S-P-E-C-T the PR-Journalist Dynamic

Posted on September 26, 2012

R-E-S-P-E-C-T the PR-Journalist Dynamic

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“So starting now, we want to draw a clear line on this. Citing Times policy, reporters should say no if a source demands, as a condition of an interview, that quotes be submitted afterward to the source or a press aide to review, approve or edit.” – New York Times memo, 9.20.2012

The New York Times powers-that-be sent a memo to their writers last week putting in plain English what would and would not be allowed in terms of after-the-fact quote approval.

Throughout the course of my PR career, I’ve gotten the dreaded – “Can we see the article before it goes to print?” or “Can I approve what they’re writing and how they’re writing it before it goes in the paper?” – from more than a handful of clients. These questions make me uncomfortable because on one hand, I understand that clients want to put their best face forward. But on the other hand, I understand the men and women on the other end of my trade. You have to make your client happy, but you have to get them to understand the PR-journalist dynamic in the process – and the boundaries that exist.

Part of this dynamic is respect. I personally feel questions on content direction or quote approval are insulting to the journalistic profession. At their cores, reporters are supposed to write with objectivity (unless it’s an opinion piece) and provide unbiased content so that a reader can take in that information and form his or her own opinions. If I then approach reporters to approve a quote or approve a content direction – and especially if I make this a stipulation to them even getting an interview with my client – I am denying them of that objectivity. Public relations practitioners are masters of messaging, and reporters write the news. Our job is to make that reporting as positive for our clients through the delivery of our messaging prior to anything being written or broadcast.

Ethics, respect and professionalism still go a long way, despite many believing the contrary. Though there are times in which reporters and PR professionals need to collaborate, I feel the Times – as well as other news organizations imposing similar bans, such as The National Journal and Reuters – are moving us all in the right direction. Let’s all have respect for one another and each other’s professional calling – and yes, even if we don’t approve.

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