Monday, July 12, 2010


Is it a dance, a battle, a friendly joust?

As a former journalist, one the toughest decisions in my entire adult life was to switch careers to "the dark side."

Sometime early in the course my life as a reporter, I was given the adage of "don't trust PR people." They will try to spin you, keep you from the person you are trying to interview, and are generally not to be trusted. It's a credo, born from the inherent trait of all good reporters and editors to be skeptical, that spreads and morphs through newsrooms and many times ends up in the reporting of men and women who profess to be unbiased.

I many times have to explain that a public relations professional's job is to not tell lies or hide the truth, but to simply make sure the other side is well represented. Or, in the case of a crisis, make sure the client is protected and to prevent greater damage. Of course, it doesn't help when PR colleagues make a bad pitch. Tolerance levels are predictably low among many reporters.

Paul Holmes makes a great point about transparency in light of the Pentagon's recently issued guidelines.

When I switched careers nearly 20 years ago, my integrity remained very important. I carefully chose to work for a PR firm that epitomized my principles of openness and to represent only upstanding clients. My firm PR firm made it clear it would never represent tobacco companies, for example.

Despite my ethical commitments, I found a few former colleagues couldn't comprehend my move and suddenly cast me into that category of untrustworthy flak.

Skepticism is fine. It's needed in journalism. (A great lesson from a former editor: "When I look at the ingredients on a box of cereal, how do I know they list everything that is in there?")

Yet, permanent distrust with no ability to consider or evaluate the information that I, a PR person, am giving a reporter - is not healthy. Journalists need to uphold their credibility, and so do I. I'll tell a reporter why I can't give out certain information. They don't like it, but many times they understand. My hands are tied. I routinely give out background information "on background."

Good media relations begins with us, the PIO, or PR specialist or anyone charged with holding conversations with the news media.

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