Journalists need public relations professionals more now than ever before.
They just don’t realize it.
During last month’s Community Service Public Relations Council meeting, Doug Moore (@dougwmoore), a reporter from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, opened a panel discussion by sharing a frequent conversation that goes on in their newsroom.
“How do we forge better relationships in the community, especially with the dreaded PR people?” he said, half-jokingly. “Those are the people we have a love-hate relationship with, as do you with journalists who sometimes don’t return your calls or who tell you they’re too busy. I would like to say it’s simple and there’s a six-point plan for success, but it’s not that simple.”
Tension between journalists and public relations professionals created a healthy conflict. It forced both sides to work toward the common good of the general public. Today, technological and economic forces are changing the dynamic.
The best journalists will understand these changes and take advantage of new connections and networks created while reporting on organizations. The best public relations professionals will focus on their own storytelling with an intense focus on truthfulness and fairness—essential building blocks for relationships with all stakeholders, including journalists. An ongoing commitment to transparency and authenticity will further strengthen relationships and the organization’s reputation.
Journalists must grow in their understanding that technology enables all organizations to become publishing companies. Twentieth-century media—newspapers, radio stations and local television stations and their affiliated networks—remain in the mix but no longer dominate and control communication channels. Those days are over and will never return. The Internet empowers businesses and organizations to rapidly build connections with citizens and consumers.
If someone is interested in a college’s athletic teams and the local news outlets never provide more than an occasional score, the college can provide in-depth and high-quality game coverage and feature stories on players and coaches. Good public relations professionals will continually monitor and identify trends affecting their organization. For instance, alumni might be interested in the graduation rate or academic assistance for athletes. There’s no way local media will cover that story if they’re only reporting game scores. Therefore, the university can publish or post a story on academics to satisfy curiosity and strengthen the relationship with alumni or any other stakeholder.
Declining economic conditions for print and broadcast journalism resulted in devastating staff reductions during the last few decades in newsrooms throughout the United States. As advertising revenues declined—the result of shifting media consumption—editors and producers were eliminated. Assistance and guidance for reporters striving to provide accurate and timely reports and stories is continually declining.
Good editors are the reporter’s best friend. They often help reporters sift through facts and data to determine the essence of the story. Veteran editors who grew up in the community or with decades of experience easily catch mistakes caused by speed, carelessness or incorrect information. Good editors lobby editors and producers to get broadcast time or front-page space for good stories from hard-working and talented reporters.
Those days are gone.
Many newspaper reporters will tell you their stories are rarely edited as thoroughly as they were just a few years ago. Copy editing and layout staffs are often a third of what they were a decade ago. Today, online page views, clicks, comments and social media sharing are influencing the type and quantity of news. Metrics and analytics are monitored more closely each passing day by those selling advertising and getting revenue to pay journalist’s salaries.
The swagger and arrogance once displayed by many journalists will be replaced by an obsessive curiosity, continuous learning and a more strategic approach to covering the news. This provides public relations professionals with an opportunity to provide more and better assistance to journalists. The results will be better for citizens and consumers.
Relationships between public relations professionals and journalists should change for the better. Journalists dealing with a good PR person will see how the organization’s story is being accurately told through its media channels. The content will provide story ideas and structure for the journalist.
Journalists should always approach their work with a healthy amount of skepticism, thorough questioning and the motivation to seek additional or alternative viewpoints. Good public relations professionals welcome that approach because, in the end, it will make their organization’s story stronger.
(Disclaimer: Joe Mueller worked as a reporter for more than six years at two daily newspapers and remembers those days with great appreciation.)