Journalists should accept responsibility for the bad stories they write

Journalists don’t think PROs know what makes a story (generally speaking of course). Some vent on Twitter the more helpful produce guidelines on how they like to be pitched to, with clear instruction about what is and what is not of interest to them, but some simply refuse to acknowledge PROs at all.

A lot of the time they’re right … it’s certainly not uncommon for PROs (and clients) not to know what is newsworthy and what is not, yet journalists must surely bear some responsibility. I’ve always prided myself on “getting” what makes a story, thanks to a bit of common sense and a love of reading news.

As I started out in PR and worked my way up through the ranks, I often found myself nodding along smugly as journalists shattered the expectations of someone pitching marketing fluff, non-news. As I got in a position of management, I tried to educate the juniors and help them avoid pointless sell-ins that achieve nothing.

However, over time I’ve noticed many journalists actually ignore their own advice. This isn’t just frustrating; it’s confusing for us poor PROs.

It ain’t easy “setting client expectations”, but we understand that it’s our job. So, we explain to a client that a survey of 500 people, although cheap, isn’t representative of Brits and unlikely to get national coverage, especially if it confirms what we already know.

We try and steer them in another direction and avoid quick fixes but then stories like: “Most CVs are not worth the paper they're written on” appear on page two of national, quality newspapers, about a survey of 500 people carried out by a jobsite (genuine article not too long ago).

A rarity? Not at all. It happens day in, day out. A colleague and I have started documenting them on Twitter using the @PRInjustice handle. It’s mainly a bit of cathartic relief, but can be very revealing with regards to what actually passes as news, despite what many journalists will tell you outright.

A story headlined: “Sounds for hanging on the teleconference call”, which received two hundred words in the FT, about a start-up that plays music about the travails of being on hold for people stuck on hold, was one of the first ones we posted. If you’re in PR, just imagine being told to pick up the phone and sell that into the FT. You’d be forgiven for feeling a chill run down your spine – yet that very story appeared in print.

It’s not that we begrudge the companies receiving such coverage (in fact we applaud them) it’s the sheer irony of journalists getting mad with PROs for the very behaviour they reinforce that frustrates us.

Follow @PRInjustice and you’ll understand. They just keep getting … less interesting and bizarrely, more funny as a result. Journalists, help us to help you! If you’re sick of non-stories, stop rewarding the PR industry for giving them to you! It’s psychology at its simplest.

Austin Brailey is co-tweeter for @PRInjustice along with Charlotte Stoel

Creative Moment Awards 2020