The Contemporary News Industry, the Journalist, and the PR Professional

Author: Martin Pavlíček, M.A., MBA

Position: Advanced Public Relations Instructor

I do not wish to put myself above others, or give the impression of being a perfectionist: PR people make mistakes just like everyone else. But lately it has occurred to me that a lot of journalists are making way too many of them way too often.

Now don’t get me wrong - I know that there is downsizing taking place in media houses left and right. The latest cuts in Zdeněk  Bakala’s media empire only prove that times are hard and the whole industry is looking for some way to at least break even. Unless the media conglomerates are able to bring some other added value (such as helping to win an election in the potential case of Andrej Babiš) the industry is simply forced to do the same job with fewer people.

Is it possible that this will lower the quality of media content? There is so much proof around us – one journalist nowadays has to cover a much larger area of interest than ever before. Weren’t we all used to having a person who wrote JUST about the energy sector, or JUST about the domestic political scene? The result nowadays is superficial coverage  – thepressurized journalist has to find a contact he does not have and turn in a story about a topic he is potentially writing about for the first time in his / her life. In addition, fluctuation among journalists in media companies has increased because of uncertainty and layoffs – the tendency to flee to temporarily safer waters is rampant.

 Spell checks have become scarcer, resulting in an a famous article by Lidové Noviny where the name of my company was turned into a name of a country, and the CEO’s name transformed into a slang version of a name of a popular drink. And that was not even online – it was solid, printed paper! Every day in online media I see sentences ending in the middle of nowhere, or clearly not making sense at all.

But these are the little things that can be excused with the mantra, “times are hard everywhere.” Sometimes the mistakes cut into the flesh whether on purpose or not – who can tell? They cut into the raw muscle of reputation where it is most felt – be it by single people, or corporations. 

 Just a few days ago an article in my monitoring file said that Transparency International has issued warnings about companies whose owners are hiding in tax havens. Interestingly enough, I found my employer’s name on the list. The story was read by many online readers. I made a quick phone call to the editor in chief. The excuse? The article was written by a person just back from maternity leave. “A sister company of your minority shareholder operates from Cyprus, you know – common mistake, right?” The article was corrected, but the damage was already done. No explanation was made as to why, or how, this could happen.

Back in the day, it took me a while to explain these things to the communication department in our mother company. It usually went like this: ”Unlike in your country, we in the Czech Republic do not have effective laws to defend ourselves in cases like these. We have very little to no control over what a journalist will produce in an article or interview. Reputation and relationship is key, as very often it dictates the tone of the story beforehand.”

Or is it the story behind the story? Is it about the relationship between owners of the media and your company or industry? Is it about some wider alliances and long term goals? Would better legislation help at all? The truth is that the result of relationships between PR and Journalist is like a big set of puzzle pieces – sometimes they click to form a perfect picture, and sometimes pieces go missing by mistake - or for a reason. The fact that the number of journalists is diminishing is not helping to solve the puzzles any better.

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