This sounds like it''s the set-up for a joke, but it actually is true...A funny thing happened to me on my way out of Dam Safety ''07 today...
I had just given a presentation entitled "Dam Safety and the Media" at a general session during the annual conference of the Association of State Dam Satety Officials when a reporter from the Dallas Morning News approached to say that he wasn''t particularly flattered by my description of his chosen profession.
I told the audience that strong negative feelings about journalists are typical, particularly among those who don''t work with them often. Common views that I''ve heard include:
  • Journalists tend to miss the point;
  • They get the facts wrong;
  • They have their own idea of what the story will be prior to an interview;
  • They tend to force the comments of the interviewee into their story, regardless of whether the facts really fit;
  • They focus on the negative; and
  • They seem like they are out to "get" the person being interviewed.
After that laundry list, I told the audience, "I''m here to tell you today that each and every one of those perceptions are absolutely true!" It''s a line I often use to get an audience on my side. It also provides the platform for my core messages about media training. Even if all of this WERE true, it doesn''t mean that we should throw up our hands and give up. So how do we work within today''s media paradigm to get our stories across?
Journalists miss the point because they aren''t experts but interviewees often try to impress them with fancy jargon and a great deal of detail. Instead, interviewees need to understand their role as educators for journalists.
Journalists sometimes get the facts wrong because they are rushed, so we need to present them with the facts in a way that they can easily understand and use.
Journalists tend to have a vision for a story prior to the interview because you aren''t the ONLY interviewee. I''m a big believer that if the interviewee asks questions beforehand, you can easily figure out how the story will play out and determine if it makes sense to participate.
Journalists focus on the negative because without conflict there is no news. Knowing this, it''s in your interest to come prepared and present the journalist with others who can be interviewed to help round out the story and minimize the chances that your organization will be portrayed as the bad guy. If nothing else, at least the journalist will know you have others on your side.
And knowing that journalists are looking for that opportunity to get an interviewee to slip up simply means that every spokesperson needs to be on his or her A-game whenever they are interacting with the press. They need to spend the time and energy planning and preparing and approach the interview as a priority in their day and not just something to survive.
As I told the audience, quoting Andy Grove, "It isn''t paranoia if they really are out to get you."
So what do YOU think of journalists? It''s a question I posed to some of my trusted associates and friends in the public relations community. Here are their answers:

Petri Darby, darbyDARNIT!:

Shrinking newsrooms are putting more pressure on journalists to cover more beats, learn about more industries, and write more articles than ever before. As the Internet continues to become the channel of choice for consumers to get their news and information, there is more of an emphasis on speed and being first to publish, resulting in heightened chance of inaccuracy and less comprehensive coverage.

In many news outlets, reporters come and go like the wind. This is making it increasingly difficult to build trusting and respectful relationships between PR professionals and reporters. While I still consider the media an important audience and channel, over time I''ve become more convinced that it is essential for companies and organizations to secure strong direct communication programs with their key constituencies.

Lauren Hammit, National Space Biomedical Research Institute:

I respect journalists first, with some small exceptions (is Ann Coulter a journalist?), but primarily I respect their effort and what they do. I am happy to be a resource for them and help out whenever I''m able.

I don''t however trust them to do their homework fully. I''ve seen it too often. My impression of journalists is that a precious FEW take the time for adequate research. I feel that too often many journalists rush to meet deadlines with stories that abbreviate the facts or fail to articulate full accounts. Some fail to even understand the subject matter of their stories.

Karen Blanchard, Naumann Blanchard, LLC:

This may not represent the most objective response since I am a former journalist with an undergraduate degree in the field. I believe the free flow of information that journalists provide is vital to a well-informed citizenry, as is their vigilant protection of the First Amendment''s guarantees of freedom of speech and press.In short, free press is the cornerstone of our nation and our liberty.

Sally Evans, S. Evans Public Relations:

I have trouble thinking of journalists as a group. Like the rest of us, as individuals, some are good, some are mediocre, and some are bad (especially when it comes to grammar and punctuation). Also, with the prominence of the Internet, there are more "writers" than journalists.

Jim Dawson, Dawson Marketing Group:

As a rule, most journalists I have worked with are decent, hard-working types who usually don''t have the time necessary to research a topic or issue thoroughly before they write about it. In effect, they mean well, but oftentimes are not well-versed on a topic and have to create an angle to generate interest on the part of the reader that may miss the real essence of a story.

I''ve also worked with journalists that had an agenda from the start and regardless of what is said in response to a question(s) write or edit video to support the approach they had in mind to start.

Javier Avellan, Schipul - The Web Marketing Company:

I guess my personal opinion of journalists varies by the company for which they work. That may not be fair... but organizations that have proven to be obviously slanted towards conservatives or liberals do not get my full trust. Even though it''s practically impossible to be completely objective... at least TRY!

The last presidential elections I flipped between several channels to get different opinions... I laughed at how the same information was being spinned in two different directions. I believe most journalists are looking for the truth, but many factors (upbringing, school, social circle, etc) affect their view of the truth. As humans we all have a "slice of the truth"... so it''s very important to have an open mind to view and listen to the slices others have to offer.

Thanks to all who responded to my LinkedIn question and for everyone else, consider this an open invitation to continue the conversation. Tell us what you think of journalists by submitting your thoughts below.