Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Journalism could use some good PR right about now

Darth Murdoch: "Apology accepted, Captain Brooks."

Journalist: expose thyself! On second thought...

As any PR teacher or practitioner will tell you, one of the things that happens when you start working in the PR business is that your reporter friends tease and harangue you about working for "the dark side."

My stock retort: "PR people are more honest about their dishonesty."

Not a bad laugh line if I do say so myself - and that's what I said before the Rupert Murdoch phone-hacking scandal. But as the scandal threatens to spread to the New York Post, FOX News, and Piers Morgan's liver, I'll say something else I've said all along:

"Journalism could use a little PR."

PR and J = tasty!

If your head just exploded, hear me out:
  • PR is supposed to be about doing what's right for your organization's publics, not just doing damage control after you've screwed them over. For Mr. Murdoch, good PR would have been to not hack into murder victims' phones in the first place.
  • PR isn't just about publicity, it's also about employee communications and engagement, research, fundraising, non-profiteering (new word!), speech writing, investor relations, social media, and marketing.
  • PR advocates two-way communication between an organization and its publics. A good media outlet, like any good business, always communicates with its publics - readers, viewers, listeners, the community, staff, shareholders, advertisers, protesters, suppliers - and is rewarded for anticipating, listening, and responding to what they say. The goal: mutual understanding.
PR people recognized the importance and power of two-way communication before there was an Internet (though we know that Al Gore invented it).

One of the problems that caught up with the traditional media (phone hacking aside) is that most were slow to react to what "the kids" were up to on the Internet, and beholden to the gatekeeper mentality: selling morsels of information to a public that couldn't get it anywhere else.

These days, media outlets have to practice PR in order to survive. The Public Editor at the New York Times, for instance, reports to readers on the goings on at the Times.

The Public Editor's ombudsman role is classic PR. (Ironically, the Public Editor recently revealed himself to have a somewhat outdated understanding of PR - though earns points for admitting it and inviting us to tell him how it works.)

More examples of PR and J:
  • The Winnipeg Free Press News Cafe
  • Special events, speakers, and seminars at the News Cafe 
  • Responding to readers' comments online 
  • Distributing your paper for free at seniors' complexes
  • Posting an online poll
  • Asking readers for story ideas
  • Making donations to charitable causes
  • Holding editorial meetings in public
  • Offering a journalism award at Red River College
  • Criticizing one's own newspaper for getting a story wrong
  • Awarding or praising a journalist for a great story
  • Covering the news that's most important to readers
  • Ensuring that every community gets covered by your media outlet
  • Holding a focus group
  • Monitoring social media
  • Writing and making available a mission statement and code of ethics.
Give in, my reporter friends. You do not know the power of the light side!

1 comment:

  1. Great post, Kenton, and so true. I got a lot of the "dark side" comments when I started working in PR, and was happily surprised that (depending on the organization you work for and your own personal standards), PR can be even more ethical, forthright, and moral than journalism. And let's face it, most PR people are former journalists.

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