The Tribune Office

The Tribune Office
...hard at work as always

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Butting heads with the press office, by Sam Webb

IN MANY professions there exist friendly and not-so-friendly rivalries - cabbies often butt heads with bus drivers, builders may groan when the building inspectors turn up and I've heard landlords of traditional pubs sometimes don't think kindly of 'hospitality managers' at national chains.

Journalism is no different. Our bete noir, our nemesis, and the Bluto to our Popeye is the press officer (anyone who thought I was going to say 'everyone else', see me after class).

We roll our eyes when we get press releases that are jargon-filled, poorly-written or lacking vital information, and we gnash our teeth when a PR man takes his sweet time when we ask for a comment or denies an interview with a VIP at the organisation at the centre of a story.

Angered by a lack of co-operation from a press officer, reporters may go out of their way to make their lives difficult, often by blowing stories involving their clients out of proportion (needless to say, this doesn't happen at the highly-professional Tribune!)

This attitude can spark a vicious circle as some press officers come to regard journos as untrustworthy muckrakers who twist the facts and stitch them up - hence the lack of co-operation.

Having done both jobs, I have seen that regarding the other side as 'the enemy' is counter-productive and, frankly, immature. There are many press officers I have a very good relationship with, even when dealing with a contentious issue, and they can even be a good source for stories when deadline looms.

Likewise, as a PR I was on good terms with a number of journalists, some of whom asked very difficult questions of my clients.

Reporters cannot blame a press officer for attempting to protect the reputation of their client - it is their job - and PRs cannot be angry when a journo attempts to bring their client to task when it is in the public interest - because that is theirs.

There will always be rivalry. Sometimes a newsman will have to hit a story with both barrels when faced with an unreasonable wall of silence and sometimes a PR will have to close ranks when hit with unfair accusations from a bullish reporter.

I still occasionally roll my eyes heavenward when faced with an obstructive press officer and my sympathy will always lie with the press, but I believe both sides can benefit from a little less hostility.

As Ralph Charell once said: "It is through co-operation, rather than conflict, that your greatest successes will be derived."

~ Sam Webb


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