Saturday, June 25, 2011

Uncalled-for criticism of the PR community — and my rejoinder

The recent comments of a Mid Day columnist have riled public relations professionals, and justifiably so.

Writing in the Mumbai edition of the newspaper earlier this week, Sheetal Sukhija first refers to the "innovative ways" PR execs use "to feed their version of 'finger-licking-news' to reporters". She then goes on to lambast the PR community for "hoodwinking reporters".

Agreed, it is rare for journalists and PR professionals to be the best of friends, but these verbal volleys in a leading publication appear to be cheap shots aimed at addressing personal issues. That is why I have posted my response on the Mid Day website, calling this article an unwanted, unwarranted, and unprofessional attack on the PR community.

Here is my rejoinder in full:

This is an unwanted, unwarranted, and unprofessional attack on the PR community. Sure, I have met a few unprofessional PR execs in my time as a journalist (almost 25 years with newspapers and media groups in Mumbai, Dubai, and Bangalore). I was never rude to them but I let them know in subtle ways that I wouldn't give them the time of day.

I have also met some PR professionals who are nice people, but, sadly, they didn't seem to understand that journalists and newspapers are not to be used to promote their clients' agenda.

Why would I be interested in giving publicity to something that has no news value? When I was working as a journalist
I am now the professor of journalism at a media college in Bangalore what I wanted from a PR professional was news. And I am glad to say I have been fortunate to interact with quite a few no-nonsense PR execs who were brilliant at their work. Give me the news point, I would say to them, and leave it to me to do the story. They understood. I reciprocated.

I believe it is important for PR people to remember that journalists are in the best position to decide what is relevant to the story. I also believe that every industry has its share of rogues and incompetents, so we have bad journalists, sloppy journalists, freeloading journalists but they are a minority.

Journalists and publicists need each other. So they need to work together. That is why this eternal tussle and, sometimes, nasty feuding between the two communities is sad. And unnecessary. And unproductive.

Coming to your column, if you had a professional issue with a particular PR exec, it would have been better to take it up with the person concerned. There was no need to (mis)use your newspaper column to vent your grievance and tarnish the reputation of the entire PR community.

  • Incidentally, I began my career as a journalist with Mid Day in Mumbai in 1981, becoming the News Editor two years later. The super-boss then was Khalid Ansari, the founder of the newspaper. (Ansari later became the managing editor of Dubai's Khaleej Times, and he offered me the position of features editor at the paper. I joined Khaleej Times in October 1988.) As News Editor of Mid Day, I would have spiked Sheetal Sukhija's diatribe against PR professionals. We had different (higher?) standards then.
  • "I've been where you are": Read Nimish Dubey's post, which is in the form of an open letter to PR professionals.
  • UPDATE (October 26, 2011):  Senior journalist Vanita Kohli-Khandekar, writing in Business Standard, says that, in the middle of two stereotypes, thousands of journalists and PR people quietly do their jobs in getting information and analyses out to readers. Read the sober and sensible opinion piece here: "About PR and journalism".

1 comment:

  1. Hahaha, we live in an era where a portion of the journalists working with newspapers fancy themselves as advertising copywriters (for example: "Railways Derailed", "America Attacked" - if I weren't fortunate enough to read a real newspaper each day, I'd have had more on top of mind recall).

    Well, considering we have advertising copywriters and budding creative visualisers doing up today's news stories, one must expect the undying thirst for "masala". So most probably, the need for a punching bag, a scapegoat and maybe one or two to spare is also a part of their idea of news.

    Having said this, I am hardly surprised they launched a scathing attack on the PR guys. Maybe it's time the PR industry retaliated in the light of the Rupert Murdoch trial ;)


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