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When PR Guides Journalists On How To ‘Write’

Journalists today know what they are up against and so do the PR people. To ensure the longevity of this ‘bond’, the lines are more or less drawn and people try to play within it

Photo Credit : Shutterstock


Conflict is a mainstay in the field of communication. The journalist-PR relationship is proof. For a journalist, nothing is more precious than that great story. At one time, journalists hunted for it. But as communication evolved, so did the way in which companies and people began speaking. The ‘PR machinery’ became a beast that a journalist must face and a give-and-take relationship came in play.

Journalists today know what they are up against and so do the PR people. To ensure the longevity of this ‘bond’, the lines are more or less drawn and people try to play within it.

Every once in a while though, an odd example pops up that makes you wonder.

For every journalist who makes unreasonable demands, there is that PR person who would like to give instructions on how a story should be treated. One direct or indirect experience a week is about normal, which means after a point, you really don’t have the time to bother. But I caught myself obsessing over a mere press release recently. I will be candid — I have largely stopped reading releases. Somehow, I have gotten into the practice of glimpsing subject, and then thinking if I should read or delete. Not proud of it, but well…

One of my younger colleagues drew my attention to this release in an attempt to understand what really was it asking of us. The news shared was of a celebrity joining a social media platform, but it came with tips on how to, and how not to address this particular platform. In fact, the tips began with, “When talking about (this platform), try to avoid terms like ‘platform’ and ‘app’.”

As someone who writes a lot on social media, I call them platforms all the time. Tip two provided me the alternative, “(This non platform) should be positioned as an enabler”.

The person in me who has been reporting on the business of branding for a while, understood the attempt of this tip; the journalist in me, not so much. These two tips were followed by tip three: “language should be aspirational and should ladder back to our new mission. Write in a way that positions this non platform in an ideal world, where people use the platform NOT as a place to share selfies and harvest likes, but as a place where they make real connections…”

By now, I am thinking, this has to be a faux pas. This cannot be addressed to journalists; it must be internal. That would make sense. The remainder of tip three, which went something like, “Think about a genuine moment you’ve experienced — like when you made someone laugh on (this non platform) or seen art that genuinely moved you — that feeling of connection is what we want to capture” clinched it. I almost replied to it to be really sure. But then I decided against it.
We decided to ignore the tips and continue with our business. If it was indeed a mistake, nobody owned up to it or recalled the email or said, “ignore our previous email” (not that does not happen). And if not, was it in fact sent with the intention to guide on how to write a story.

A few days have passed, and I find myself wondering if I did the right thing by ignoring it. Should I have raised an issue? Should I have escalated it? Did I have a responsibility here? Or am I thinking too much? May be I am. And honestly that would be the easy answer. Because that would mean I am not part of a fraternity that has gotten so superficial that we have forgotten who we are and lost sight of what we should be. I still am unable to answer the questions in any sensible way.

Tags assigned to this article:
public relation journalists media magazine 13 May 2017