Why PR People Hate Reporters

My last post was written for journalists, to explain why the head of a company might not be inclined to drop everything to do a media interview (Hey You Reporters, Get off my Lawn). I remember from my days as a journalist thinking that everyone, including the CEO, had an obligation to answer my questions.

I also remember the many calls from cheery-voiced PR flacks who actually did want me to interview their CEO so that they could promote some new product or service. Often I was rude. A journalist’s day is always busy and I felt I needed to get on with the real news.

So, now that I’ve switched sides this is an apology of sorts to those cheery-voiced flacks and a wake-up call for smug journalists who like to torment anyone in public relations. They may have to phone you to pitch a story but that doesn’t mean they have to like you. In fact, here are six reasons why PR people hate reporters;

  1. Reporters won’t return calls for a good news story but they scream bloody murder if PR people don’t call back immediately during a crisis.
  2. Reporters never let the facts get in the way of a good story.
  3. Reporters will interview any crackpot who voices a contrary opinion even if an overwhelming majority is in favour of something.
  4. A PR person might spend the entire day lining up interviews and the Reporter will cancel at the last minute without so much as an apology. But if something happens a day later, the Reporter expects the PR person to set up the interviews again.
  5. Reporters never do a follow up story when a problem has been fixed.
  6. If a PR person tells a Reporter something off the record, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s off the record. Reporters often print the information anyway and might even use the PR person’s name if it will make a better story.

Over to you, my PR colleagues – did I leave anything out? And I’m happy to give equal time to any reporter who wants to make a rebuttal.


Filed under Communication, Media

37 responses to “Why PR People Hate Reporters

  1. You should come to Press Club for drinks at the Railway and interview all the reporters for a follow piece called Why Reporters Hate PR People. Seriously. DM me on Twitter, and I’ll send you an invite.
    Jennifer Moreau

  2. With your sweeping generalizations, you must have been a helluva reporter.

    • Award winning. And thick skinned

      • Lol. Nothing thin about my hide, man. But saying reporters never let facts get in the way of a good story is bullshit. And if you believe that then you should return those awards.

      • Well Scott, the first time I heard that phrase was from the lips of an editor at a major Canadian newspaper. It comes from Fleet Street in London where all the major British newspapers used to be. In the 60’s and 70’s a great number of Fleet Streeters came to Canada as editors and instructed budding young journalists on how to get people to actually read the newspaper and not just wrap fish in it. The idea was that it didn’t matter a good god damn what you wrote if nobody read it.So, up until recently, reporters have always been encouraged to write “ripping yarns”, stories that would sell newspapers. Have you heard of William Randolph Hearst? His quote was “you furnish the pictures and I’ll furnish the war.”

  3. Oz

    You know why reporters hate PR people?
    Because PR people have no respect for reporters. Case in point.

    • Chris, don’t confuse lack of respect with honest criticism. I was in journalism longer than I’ve been in PR. I think this is an important debate that can raise the bar on both sides.

      And to everyone, please don’t kill the messager. What I’ve shared in my post are sentiments that I’ve heard from more than a thousand clients and dozens of PR people.

  4. Thanks. I am familiar with the cliche – along with Fleet Street, fish wrap and Hearst.
    But it’s piffle.
    The journalists I work with are committed to the truth because ultimately that is where the best stories are. And if you were any kind of journalist you would know that.
    I give you credit for a provocative post. But I don’t believe you believe half of what you have written here.

  5. Philip Hicks

    Some, repeat, many… Of the younger scribes I meet these days behave like they are High Priests of Truth. They do not know how to slink like ink stained wretches; and their writing’s the poorer,for,it.

  6. AndreaWoo

    I strongly disagree with numbers two through six. Regarding number one: I am so pathetically starved for time that I often don’t even call my parents back. I don’t feel good about it, but when things are hectic, it is not a priority for me to return a PR call about a story proposal I know would never fly at my publication.

    If anyone really believes that numbers two through six happen on the norm, I’d say they’re lacking in some personal principles. I would never report something I know to be inaccurate, or misleading, if it makes a “good story,” for example; and I would never, EVER say something is off the record and then go ahead and print it — unless I can independently verify it, or I’ve gotten it from other sources on the record.

    To be frank, I don’t know of any colleagues who would even occasionally do any of these things.

    • I have not said that these six things are “the norm”, I’ve said that they all happen from time to time and they annoy PR people. And you’ve admitted to the first one. Please Andrea, phone your mother, those of us in PR will wait while you do that. The second point doesn’t mean being inaccurate, it means torquing the story. If five people out of five thousand oppose something but get equal time because they have picket signs I think a reporter is guilty of 2 and 3. And, yes, you may have cancelled at the last minute because you are “pathetically starved for time” but that has consequences to the PR person. Good for you for keeping things off the record, I hope your editor goes along with that. I’ll agree with you on point five when I see corrections on the front page of the newspaper, not hidden on page two.

      • Tyler Olsen

        Writing that “reporters never” do such and such means that you think the reverse is always the case and, thus, is the norm. You’re already backing away from what you wrote.

      • AndreaWoo

        Did you generalize this much as a reporter? These things simply don’t happen much among reputable journalists — but I guess you won’t let that fact get in the way of a good blog post.

      • Like any good reporter, I stand by my sources which are many

      • “I’ve said that they all happen from time to time and they annoy PR people”
        Actually, you didn’t say that at all in your post. You pretty much painted every reporter with the same brush

      • No, I never said every reporter does this. I listed six things that reporters do that annoy PR people

      • Do PR people define “never” differently from reporters? Because 2 and 5 say “Reporters never.” That means at no time in the history of mankind have reporters “let the facts get in the way of a good story”, nor “do a follow-up story when a problem has been fixed” — is what you’re saying.
        That’s not to mention the rest of the points which reeks of generalization.
        I’m guessing the words “sometimes” or “from time to time” weren’t available? Because it would have at least help make your case a little less exaggerated and unnecessarily insulting.
        But hey, you got the negative responses and attention I’m sure you were hoping for. Bravo!

      • You make a good point. The use of the word “never” was hyperbole and perhaps I should have used your wording. I have personally seen every one of my points committed by journalists (not all journalists) and many colleagues and clients have also complained to me about them. That’s why respect for the media continues to erode. One thing that I’m learning from reaction to this post is that reporters may have a different definition of “facts”. Reporters believe that if someone says something publically it is a fact but the public has a much different view, as do the courts.”Never let the facts get in the way of a good story?” Ask John Furlong and his family about that. The reaction I was looking for was thoughtful discussion, not denials and personal attacks

  7. Tyler Olsen

    Just read that comment I left and it’s pretty damn confusing. Apologies. Point is that saying reporters never let the truth get in the way of a story IS saying it is the norm. The word never is cut and dry.

  8. I can’t be bothered to rebut point by point. I’ll just say I don’t do business this way and I never have. Feel free to ask any PR people I have dealt with over the past 30 years and you’ll hear the same. There are probably thousands of them.

    • Knowing you, I’m sure that’s true and there are many others like you. But there are also strong feelings among PR people and clients that the media is difficult to deal with. PR people won’t stand up and say it and, after the abuse I’ve received all day, I can understand why. But I have personally seen examples of each of these points. We should be having a serious discussion about it and both sides need to be thicker skinned. Reporters should remember how they’ve reacted to my post the next time someone complains that their story is full of generalizations.

      • Oz

        The first time someone complains of that in one of my stories, I shall. To date, there’s been more generalizations in your post, however, than anything I’ve got in print put together.

  9. Of course reporters will return calls for a good news story. They might not for a “good news” story, though.

  10. When I worked in PR, I got the distinct feeling that the scales were stacked unfairly – there are probably 10 PR people employed for every 1 reporter. It’s evident that reporters are stretched way, way too thin, and unfortunately, I have seen examples of all of the behaviour you’re talking about. Fortunately, it’s not the norm, but worth a discussion between PRs and reporters about how to keep the news fair and accurate. I think there’s something for everyone in that.

  11. Wes Kirk

    Just because you were paid as a journalist, doesn’t mean you were a journalist. It sounds like you’ve been a PR person all along. You’re even doing PR on yourself. You’d have to be to write a blog post like that and not think you’re hack.

    • When I was “paid as a journalist” by CBC, CTV National News and various other newspapers and broadcast outlets, hack was a term reporters used when referring to themselves. They called PR People flacks.

  12. Guy Saddy

    Ken, I think the fact that you didn’t qualify your generalizations is the nut of the problem; if you had said “some reporters,” you may have not alienated your former colleagues (as much). But phrasing your attack as you have, you’ve tarred everyone in the industry with the same brush. Were you aiming to incite this kind of reaction? I think so…

  13. As a PR professional…
    1+4 just come with the territory… PR folks are dealing with 1 maybe 2 stories at a time (often per week or month) and journalists are coping with multiple stories and daily deadlines. if a pitched story doesn’t take then I look at how I could have pitched it differently, or follow up with one or two journalists I have a good working relationship with. Sometimes it is better as feature doc on the radio or web and this needs more work on my part than a general press release.
    2 is just there to goad reporters into responding and get a bunch of replies
    3 comes with the territory… A good pr person should anticipate the alternate angles that can be made of their “good news” story and be ready to neutralize them or offer up interviewees again to respond to negative comments.
    5 that’s your job not theirs… But again, you need to frame it as a story not just a pr push… What went into fixing the issue? How have the company policies changed to prevent this happening again?
    6 you should never expect anything you say to be off be record, even if you’re good friends with the journo in question… Being careful with your own communication is the only way to be sure you haven’t compromised the client/org you work for.

  14. If any of my PR colleagues “hate” any journalist for the reasons listed above, it strikes me that they misunderstand some of the basics of their profession — and of the media they are targeting. As for point #2 (lest any journalists get the wrong idea), it is certainly brilliant trolling, but I don’t know any PR professional who would agree with it at a general level.

  15. Paul J. Henderson

    There is really nothing more tedious than a PR flack bragging about his time as a journalist. It’s like the mook in the small town constantly bragging about all the good things he/she did when he/she lived in the big city. If you had a journalism career that you think was so illustrious why aren’t you still doing it?

  16. Excellent post. Thank you for putting it out there despite the risk and any backlash. What led me here is wondering why journalists seem to increasingly bitch about PR people. Sure, there are aggressive or clueless (or both) PR people as there are in any industry (journalism included) but how many reporters working under today’s expectations could do their job without PR? Seriously, if reporters had to get out there and dig up stories, interviewees, images, tickets, etc with no assistance whatsoever, how could they pull it off. We PR folks don’t need praise publicly or privately from journalists—whose lives are hectic and hard… we know—but let’s drop the PR bashing. To me, the point of Ken’s post is that PR people deserve journalists’ respect/time and that can all stand to show each other some compassion.

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