The Love Affair Between Public Relations & Journalism

Public relations is so misunderstood.

The other day, a journalist friend posted online that the “media handler” who messed with her interview questions is now on her list. I assume it’s a blacklist and I really wanted to speak up and comment about how ludicrous that is, to blame the publicist for helping a person to feel comfortable with media.

What I should’ve done was posted back that perhaps it would have been useful to offer the “handler” some feedback, so he/she could learn how to work better with media. When we understand that every person is a living, breathing, wanting-to-do-well, wanting-to-help-people individual with a heart, it’s hard to dismiss them summarily.

I’ll admit, in my early days of PR, I messed up many times. Thank God no one wrote me off forever – and one journalist friend at the time had the kindness and the courage to call me and encourage me to work in a different way. I am so glad she did – I knew little about the field and was feeling my way through and I appreciated the feedback.

When I was a journalist, I can’t tell you how many people shied away from talking to me, even if I promised to listen well, to run quotes by them, to be understanding. There is a general mistrust of media and for good reason! So many journalists don’t respect the inherent nature of humanity and press onward in the interest of finding the good story.

Yes, journalism has the responsibility of making sure the public is informed. I stand by that 100%. But not every story is the public’s business, nor should it be. And just because we go by the title of journalist doesn’t mean we have the right to push our noses into everyone’s business.

When I stepped into public relations six years ago, I was understandably nervous about crossing over to the dark side. There is a mysterious animosity between the two professions. But the more I’ve gotten into PR and grown to love the work that I do, the more I wonder why.

In theory, we should be best friends. I can help bring a wonderful story or person or knowledge source to journalists who are looking for exactly that. I can prep the person to be comfortable being interviewed and guide them toward giving the whole story in the right way that the news needs it.

Most people, myself included, are not well-trained in speaking to the press. They need coaching. And the press should welcome this, as there’s nothing worse than a source who stumbles over awkward wording and then calls 16 times to take back a quote or check on the story or to yell at the reporter for printing something that they swore would stay “off the record.”

Public relations and journalism need each other. They should be intertwined, inextricably. It should not piss off a journalist that a public relations professional is involved in the process. As my father says, “Everybody in America is entitled to a defense and everyone needs PR.”

Last Sunday, I was thrilled when a story about my client, Lutheran Social Services of Michigan, by the esteemed Detroit Free Press writer Patricia Montemurri ran on the front page of the Life section. I emailed Patty right away to thank her for doing the story.

She emailed back to say: “Thank you for your good groundwork.”

I didn’t “handle” her story. I presented it to her and helped to get it done in the way she envisioned it. My client is happy. The news source is happy. The people who were interviewed were happy with their experience – and I can tell you, at the start, they were very gun-shy to embark on this at all.

It was my “handling” that put them at ease. That opened the door to the media. That helped both the newspaper and the non-profit organization to mutual benefit.

So I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. Too bad if it pisses anyone off. 

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