By Alyson Fixter
"PR Meets Journalism" magazine Editorial Intelligence has defended its controversial offer of payments to journalists to join its advisory board, saying some commentators have complained about the move because they prefer the relationship between PRs and hacks to be "cloak and dagger".
The new title, launched by PR guru Julia Hobsbawm, is offering journalists £1,000 a year to sit on its advisory board, and £250 a time to appear on discussion panels, while, according to the Sunday Times, 40 organisations such as the Royal Mail and Vodafone have paid £4,000 each to join the club in the hope of getting their agendas across to Britain’s most influential commentators.
While some top columnists, such as Rod Liddle and Christina Odone, have condemned the model, others have defended it, including Yasmin Alibhai- Brown, a member of the board.
In a column in The Independent on Monday, she wrote: "Many columnists, from right to left, including myself, are involved tangentially in the venture.
"Yeah, right, Matthew d’Ancona, the editor of The Spectator, Suzanne Moore and I are for sale for £250, the fee for EI panel appearances."
EI editor Sophie Radice told Press Gazette: "I think that it is inevitable that some people find the idea of opening up the relationship between commentary and PR — by the means of debates, forums and essays in the EI journal — controversial.
"We will soon be completing our profiling of the world of British commentary, which will not be a way into influencing commentators, but rather a way of recording who writes about law on a Tuesday and also writes about micro-economics in another publication on a Sunday. It’s a fascinating world to try and capture.
"I can’t help wondering if all this recent outrage about backscratching might be because a few journalists prefer things to be more, rather than less, cloak and dagger."
The advisory board, she added, was "not an integral part" of EI, but was "very helpful when we were setting up to get people to give their feelings about whether EI was going to be interesting.
"It was certainly not a means of getting people to write pieces about our clients," she added.
"We are really concentrating on the journal, the debates and the profiles — that is the foundation of what we do."
Jeremy Scott, client director at the magazine, added that no members of the advisory board had accepted the offer of £1,000 and that, contrary to the Sunday Times article, they did not offer anyone money for turning up to events, but did pay £250 for panel members.
Scott said: "People gave us a lot of time and effort and the fee was a nominal one. In hindsight, we should have asked everyone to give their time for free, because it turned out they were all quite willing to."