Defending the PR industry

July 20, 2011

Public relations

PR is often coined "spin doctors" because of the unethical work of a few. So why wouldn't we call journalists unethical and point the finger at Rupert Murdoch. Because generalizations are dangerous, and usually inaccurate. (Image credit: AP)











Yesterday, Rupert Murdoch ended up with egg all over his face. Well, actually, it was shaving cream.

To be fair, Murdoch and his son did some things right, including apologizing and admitting making mistakes in the now infamous News Corp. hacking scandal. But they also did some things wrong, including Rupert basically blaming his employees for the hacking incident and refusing to take the brunt of the responsibility himself even though News Corp. is his company.

I saw a lot of coverage of Murdoch and Murdoch yesterday, as I have for the last couple of weeks. But what I missed were the “Journalists are a bunch of unethical hackers” stories and blog posts. Sure, there was discussion of the Murdochs’ testimony and some editorializing about Rupert’s follies. But no over-generalizing or condemnation of journalists or bloggers in general.

On one hand, I was glad. That kind of irresponsible assessment drives me crazy. I went to college to be a journalist and have a lot of respect for the industry. But I couldn’t help thinking that if Murdoch worked for a PR agency, the “spin doctors” accusations would have been flying faster than Southwest Airlines out of Chicago Midway.

The latest “What good is PR anyway?” post comes from the New York Times Arthur Brisbane. He took his colleague, David Pogue, to task for accepting money to speak to PR professionals about best practices when it comes to pitching journalists. If it was a violation of the Times ethics policy, then fine. However, I have learned a lot from David Pogue’s blog posts and presentations through Ragan Communications and believe I am better at my job for it.

Brisbane had a different take on the ethics of Pogue and the PR industry: “Times readers deserve to be assured that journalists don’t get too cozy with the P.R. professionals who strive to influence coverage. A virtual army of publicists, media specialists and others stands ready every day to infiltrate the news with stories that help their employers.”

Where do I begin with that quote? Let’s just say I was taught as a Northwestern (Go, U!) journalism student  that thorough research and telling both sides of the story, even in an opinion piece, was non-negotiable. Brisbane didn’t even come close to fulfilling that requirement. He did however post a question to his readers a week after the Pogue post asking if they could shed some light on the value PR provides journalists and perhaps enlighten him.

The comments in both pieces are great and I’d urge you to read them. A lot of PR professionals like Mark Ragan and Keith Trivitt stood up for our industry, which I applaud. I’ve been thinking a lot about commenting too — sort of feel like it’s a responsibility for PR professionals. But what could I say that hadn’t already been said?

Well, I think I finally figured it out. My comment to our buddy Mr. Brisbane is going to read something like this: “First of all, PR is a lot more than just publicity. But I think many of my PR peers have covered that. So instead, let’s talk about generalizations and assumptions. They’re dangerous and irresponsible. For PR, journalism or any industry.

“It would be easy for me to throw the “lack of ethics” generalization you imposed on PR pros right back at you in light of the recent News Corp. hacking scandal. Not to mention the fact that Rupert has now hired three PR agencies to help him get out of trouble — back to that PR is not just publicity point. And of course there’s your lack of research in the reporting for your column on Pogue. Heck, maybe I could even throw in Jayson Blair.

“But what’s the sense in that? One, it would be hyperbolic. And two, it would be inaccurate. See, as PR pros, my peers and I actually do work and build relationships with a lot of journalists. And most of them are extremely ethical, not to mention good at their jobs.

“But that’s just an opinion. Don’t take my word for it. I wouldn’t want to influence your coverage.”


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  1. Top 5 turkeys in PR for 2011 | Justin Case You Were Wondering - November 28, 2011

    [...] Pogue to task for ethical violations. Who knows, maybe you and David had a fight at recess. But what’s really funny is that your quote and column above came in the shadow of the Rupert Murdoch News Corp hacking [...]

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