Working in a 24/7 news world brings many opportunities for public relations practitioners looking to place stories and journalists looking to tell their stories. However, the race to be the first to tell a story often positions these professionals to compromise accuracy.
At the recent annual meeting of the Society of Professional Journalists, accuracy in reporting and ethics were prevalent topics. As a PR person in attendance, it became very clear to me that the journalists we endlessly pursue for coverage could use our help with three things:
1. Give it to me straight.
In countless articles and blog posts, journalists plead with PR pros to take time to read and become familiar with how they write, what they write about, to learn about the publication and understand how they prefer to be contacted. A writer at Newsweek recently shared his story about how he read and replied to every single PR email he received for a week. His experience was nothing short of hellish and an obvious example of how PR professionals are not listening to reporters’ pleas! What goes without saying, but is worth stressing, is that journalists want PR reps to give them targeted information that is also complete and accurate.
True to the recently revised journalist’s code of ethics, reporters are driven to seek truth and report it, taking responsibility for the accuracy of their work and verifying every piece of information that we give them. PR pros must take the time to provide detailed source information and back-up materials for claims made in pitches, press releases, etc. The more information we provide once we engage about a story, the easier it is for a reporter to sell our story to their editor and the better the end story will be.
In our effort to sell a story or satisfy our bosses or clients, PR pros may sometimes offer (or hint at) sources and information that may not actually be possible to deliver. The information we provide journalists must never be deliberately misleading. Providing such information can only lead to unpleasant outcomes and soured or ruined relationships with reporters and the outlets they represent – a bad move when good, solid relationships with media are necessary to PR’s success!
As journalists strive to clearly report facts, context, and visuals (photographs, infographics, charts, etc.), so too should PR reps. In fact, as we’re working with journalists on stories, we should provide updated and complete information as it becomes available, leaving no room for any surprises. Transparency is key and is the golden rule to follow.
3. Be a true partner.
PR pros need journalists to help tell their stories. When a journalist expresses interest in a story, a true partnership develops between both professionals to tell the best story possible. PR reps need to make the experience as easy and seamless as possible for reporters by responding quickly to questions, adhering to deadlines and being accountable for the information that is being shared and delivered. Closely working with journalists to tell accurate, clear and fair stories is a win-win and a potential start to a collegial relationship.
As professional journalists move forth to drive awareness and adoption of their newly revised code of ethics, PR pros should take time to read and become familiar with the code as well. In this 24/7 news world we live and work in, PR pros play a critical role in helping journalists report accurate information no matter the medium and format – print, broadcast, digital, visual – now more than ever. In the end, both professions seek to tell the best story possible.