Journalism vs PR: entering enemy ground?

‘I don’t ever totally trust a press officer, and they should never totally trust me,’says freelance journalist Louise Tickle.

Surprised? Probably not. Or maybe until you realise Louise used to be a press officer herself.

Is it any wonder that journalists who do find themselves working in PR may turn their back on it after a while? The profession is not best known for ‘reputation management’when it comes to its own standing.

Anyone in any doubt about PR’s image in some journalists’ eyes should take a look at a recent post entitled ‘Die, PR, Die’on Technology Guardian editor Charles Arthur’s blog. After detailing a catalogue of jaw-dropping incompetence, Arthur concludes: ‘PR has to raise its game. It’s just dire.”

Against this background you can understand why a one-time PR officer attempting to make their way as a reporter – or who goes back to journalism after PR – could feel a little apprehensive. They may even want to keep their background a secret, as Tickle admits that she did. But she adds: ‘Sometimes I worry that I’m too understanding of PR. I know the pressures that account directors are under to get their stories out, which makes me too sympathetic and give too much time to PRs who call me with unsuitable material.

‘It also makes me really annoyed if PRs don’t return phone calls, don’t update me on whether I can have an interview with their spokesperson, and don’t get relevant information to me in time for my deadline.’

IT journalist and media trainer Guy Clapperton says that although there are undoubtedly potential conflicts of interest in working as a PR and a journalist – something he has never done – it can be rather ‘precious’of journalists to look down at anyone spending time in PR.

‘They have changed jobs and there is no reason they shouldn’t change back again. Let’s not pretend we are all totally objective all the time, that we don’t ever write in a certain way because of our own or a newspaper’s viewpoint.”

For fellow IT writer and media trainer Sally Whittle, things have been a lot more clear-cut.

‘A former editor wouldn’t take features from a PR who also still wanted to dabble in journalism,’ she says. ‘I think that he felt you compromise independence by taking the PR shilling, and that your motives would always be a bit suspect.”

Whittle has some down-to-earth advice for a journalist-turned-PR who wants to come back to the fold. ‘Make sure you take all your hack chums out for lunch before you give up the expense account,’she says.

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