We asked Fleet Street Fox for her take on the current state of PR and media relations. Boy, did we get it.
Public relations types are always quick to sniff which way the wind is blowing, which is perhaps why in the past few years they’ve started treating journalists like dirt.
Some always have. But since journalism was, as a trade, marched to the public pillory by self-serving politicians and half-blind lawyers, PR experts have exploited it to bully, lie, threaten and control.
Now, I don’t complain that journalists are hated; if we were loved we’d be doing it wrong. PRs and hacks share a mutual discomfort that naturally arises from sometimes being at loggerheads.
It’s normal for spokesmen to say ‘it’s not my job to answer your questions’, ask when the deadline is and ignore it, or issue statements so blatantly untrue they sound like Comical Ali denying the Allies are at the gates of Baghdad.
There are some who are just plain nasty; but I’ve always thought that was a fault in their medication rather than a default position for your whole trade.
Yet in the 20-odd years I’ve been a journalist I’ve seen the arm’s-length distrust that is only natural between us turn into actual hate. PRs have ceased to treat us as human.
The other day a friend of mine rang a football PR to say he had a story about a player and wanted to check it for both accuracy and comment. The response was: ‘We’re not helping you, we’ll just sue you if it’s wrong.’
Not long ago a hack working on an innocuous TV talent show story was told by the PR that if it ran they would pull their paper from every press release, statement and interview opportunity. The editor was realistic, and dropped the story in return for continued access.
Then there was a government press officer who insisted I and everyone in my industry always lied and she would never deal with any of us. When I told her the taxpayer money she earned was a bit of a waste, she said it was her job to ‘talk to people – not you’.
Perhaps that just seems bullish to you – but trust me, it happens every day, on every tale from local yarns all the way up to Downing Street, and it didn’t use to.
Police won’t confirm names of suspects, public officials have been jailed for talking to journalists despite not taking any money from them, and libel lawyers think it’s Christmas.
In times of recession and falling circulation, budgets shrink. There are many papers which are one big libel case away from closure. I was threatened six months ago with being personally sued and losing my home – something which has always been a possibility but never mentioned before.
With the exception of corporations, journalists are probably the only people who don’t have PRs of their own. We’re not allowed to defend ourselves – reporters cannot risk a personal opinion in case they become the story.
As a result everyone – and I include journalists in this – has forgotten that we are people too.
We use the council services, we rely on the police, schools and hospitals, we vote, just like everyone else.
We have the added bonus of being able to get our questions answered occasionally, and the extra risk of being shot at now and again.
It’s been our turn to take the flak and we can take it. But that needs to be over now, and it would be nice if PRs and journalists could get back to not trusting each other like we used to.
What do you think of Fleet Street Fox’s take on things? Is she right? Let us know in the comments below.
Fleet Street Fox is journalist and author. She writes for the Daily Mirror Online as well as her own website fleet street fox.