Friday, June 19, 2009

Obfuscation vs. PR's legitimate role

Eschew ObfuscationImage by stonehouse_ via Flickr

Our local PRSA chapter recently held a luncheon with a panel made up of publishers/editors of local weeklies in an attempt to hear how they were doing financially and how PR people and journalists could work together on news stories.

What attendees received was a peek at the reality for these journalists:
From the GFW PRSA Blog -
During the Q&A, Lee Newquist, publisher of Fort Worth Weekly, was asked how PR practitioners could be of the most value to the weeklies. As part of a longer response, Newquist answered, “PR companies, at least on the journalism side of what we do, are problematic because they’re in between (us and) the person with the real answer. I don’t want to talk to a PR person whose sole role in their career is to spin it and make it sound good."

Blake Ovard, managing editor of The Star Group weeklies, echoed: “All of the cities have a PIO, and their job is to keep you from getting the story, so they don’t understand why I don’t want to talk to them. They say, ‘Well, I have all your information.’”

I wish I could have attended the luncheon.

I did, however, interact with a number of fellow PRSA members who did attend as well as follow along some of the quotes from Twitter.

I think what seemed to ruffle the feathers of some in attendance was what has come to be seen as the typical broad-stroked summation from journalists that PR people block the news gathering process. This is simply not the case, at least not always. Are there PR people who do a horrible job for their organizations or clients. Yep. But the same is true in any industry (up to and including journalism.)

Speaking from a communication professional's perspective, it is true that for public information officers, sometimes we have to get to the information tucked away inside our government agencies. We understand and appreciate the journalists would prefer to speak directly with the internal expert and source and to be quite honest, in most cases this is our preference too.

However, there are times when we cannot provide information for privacy, personnel protection, and other various legal reasons beyond our and the organization's control. It is highly frustrating when these actions are then turned around and interpreted as obfuscation when our hands are simply tied.

Perhaps the panelists didn’t fully appreciate the host organization is made up of PR professionals who hold to a PRSA Code of Ethics,which state in part:

HONESTY - We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.

We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.

We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression.
If you hope to reach your community and your community members find local weeklies useful, then the strategy dictates paying attention to and functioning in tandem with these media outlets. If your community does not find local weeklies relevant, move on.

Perhaps our organizations would be better served if public relations professionals work on being better as well as look to what could be in store for our profession and for journalists.

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