The traditional "flacks v hacks" debate has opened up again on several fronts recently. When I say debate, it’s usually been a bit one-sided: some journalists blame the ills of the world on PRs who take it and offer the other the cheek.
Phil Gomes of Edelman sums up the traditional put-the-boot in reflex when it comes to talking about by PR in a post here. He sees the tactic being adopted by bloggers wanting to have a whinge and points the finger at the likes of Tom Foremski and Bill Holstein as prime examples. Mr Gomes puts it thus:
Beating up on PR people is a nice, easy target.
Journalists are in a fairly safe position to do this because any real
retaliation from the flack would be a severely career-limiting move…. Honestly…
Every quarter or so, you get the old, rehashed complaints about the field’s
He’s right. But now PRs are beginning to want to assert their own views via blogs. Witness the "self-policing" of the Bad Pitch blog, the outing of bad journo behaviour on the Bad Hack blog (where you can also see an exchange in the wake of Gary Flood’s bad-PRs-are -all-bunnies article in the first issue of PR Business).
Slightly more high profile has been the spat between national journos and Julia Hobsbawm’s Editorial Intelligence (EI). The cause – a rash of resignations from the board of EI by journalists – has generated some 8,000 words of copy in the nationals over the past week and an opportunity for the likes of "Odd" Rod Liddle, as Wikipedia says he is known, to put his boot in yet again to flacks and lackeys they loathe so much. Liddle, apparently (according the Wikipedia, so you’ll want to fact-check that;-)) famous for calling Geordies "monkeys and morons" and other gaffes, calls PR a "parasitic profession".
Yes, this is a blog, so I can voice my genuine ire here. I’ve given
myself a couple of days to calm down but it still makes me angry. The constant attacks by certain journos
gets to me sometimes – I don’t lie, I don’t bribe, I don’t corrupt and I’m happy with my trade:
helping people and organisations to communicate effectively. It’s only
these people who don’t even understand the job I do that feel they have
the right to make feel dirty about my living, as if it were something
shameful to be doing.
I was delighted today, though, to read Peter Preston’s column in the Observer Business & Media section today, where he point-by-point puts his freaked-out, foaming-mouthed colleagues back in their box, reminding them that there are PRs who promote their publications, their profiles and their books when they write them, and that a vault over the fence into PR is very much a not-uncommon career move for a lot of journos.
Please do read the whole thing here, but I’ll quote this choice section from his summing up:
There isn’t a thick black line of probity here; more 1,000 thin grey
lines of reality and duty and obligation that are surely better
discussed out in the open rather than drawn in silence or decked in
simplistic moralising. Forget the story of gallant journalists taking
on spin doctors in some ultimate battle of good and evil. It is
self-serving and self-deluding garbage. It pretends that one lunch at
the Ivy obliterates independence, that crusaders’ swords turn cardboard
at the sight of a free drink, that one quote from Liddle settles all
arguments. It forgets the unobtrusive inquiry or prompt that helps
secure stories in every paper. It is brain dead, and suffocatingly
pompous to boot: a parody of the real world that journalists and their
readers need to understand better. In that world, there are mostly
deadlines, not weeks in Tobago. In that world, the unpleasant pong is
probably only shibboleths left to rot too long.
Thanks, Mr Preston. Thanks very much for bringing a voice of sanity to bear in this debate.
I also realise that I need to read Comment is Free more often – I could have been wading in on this argument already this week… I’m off there now by the way… Cry havoc!