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Tagged: / Posted: 2 April 2009

Here's a horribly revealing post from a PR site, written by a local authority press officer, reflecting quite a few of the themes from Flat Earth News:


Ten things you should know about journalists

by Fran Collingham

1. The story’s the thing. It’s not personal, they’re not out to get you - they just want the story. A good journalist in pursuit of a good story is like a bull terrier. They won’t let go, they’ll try every route they can to get to the story and if they think you’re spinning them a line they’ll see it as a challenge. Get "The Paper" starring Michael Keaton out on video and you’ll begin to understand the motivation that drives a good hack.

2. Some journalists are crap - and you can use them. You can tell they’re crap when they take the first quote you give them, they use the angle on your press release and they don’t chase you on supplementary questions. If they’ve got a decent newsdesk they’ll be back with more questions after you’ve fobbed them off the first time, but time and resources being what they are on local newspapers you can usually expect an easy ride

3. Off the record? Use with care. I think you can go off the record with journalists if you really need to kill a story and you have an ongoing relationship with the reporter...so it’s no good with the nationals who’ll be back at Wapping by the time you’re carpeted by the boss for spilling the beans. You can’t persuade a journalist to kill a story unless you give them a good reason (the person complaining to the paper about your organisation is a nutter, for instance), and that’s probably when you do need to go off the record. Otherwise avoid.

4. It’s always worth rebutting, even if the rebuttal gets no coverage. It’s a war of attrition, and you need to wear them down. When I was a journalist, every reference made in a story to a Portakabin sparked an acid letter from Portakabin pointing out that Portakabin was a registered trademark, that unless we could prove the building was a Portakabin we should refer to it as a portable building and so on. We always threw the letter in the bin, but did think twice before calling a portable building a Portakabin. If the newsdesk knows you’re the sort to make a fuss if there’s an inaccuracy they will make sure facts are checked more thoroughly.

5. It’s not always the reporter’s fault if there’s something wrong in the story. Their finely crafted words may well be rewritten by the newsdesk, the subs will cut the story (and that’s when your quotes disappear unless they’re punchy and soundbite-y) and then write a headline to fit the space - not necessarily to reflect the story. A story can go through so many hands before it gets in the paper it can turn into a game of Chinese Whispers. So if you’ve got a problem it may not be worth talking to the reporter, you’ll need to moan at everyone involved.

6. There’s no such thing as an off duty journalist. I’ve had some great stories from drunken Saturday night dinner parties. So even if your municipal reporter becomes your best buddy when the landlord calls last orders, don’t confide in them. Journalists are the worst gossips you’ll ever meet...that’s why they’re journalists

7. You can’t appeal to a journalist’s better nature - they don’t have one. If the story they want will involve heartbreak, broken careers and ruin, that’s a great story. The more trouble it causes the better they like it (see point one).

8. Most journalists you’ll come across will be paid less than your admin assistant (really). Weekly provincial reporters may be on a lot less than £10,000 a year and working conditions are atrocious. Redundancy notice in a brown envelope to my home address on a Saturday morning? Starting time changed from 8.30am to 7.30am with one day’s advance warning? Working on Boxing Day and every bank holiday? All happened to me in the exciting world of regional journalism, not the public sector. So don’t be surprised if they resent your cushy working hours, decent salary cheque and long holidays - and don’t rub it in.

9. Journalists have an inflated sense of the worth of their paper. It may be the Little Piddling Gazette, with a circulation of 6,700, but to them it’s the centre of the universe - until they get that job on the Greater Piddling Evening Times. So treat the Little Piddling Gazette with as much respect as The Guardian and the journalist will appreciate you for it.

10. And they do want to be loved. Every poll you’ll ever see of the least popular/trustworthy/respected professions will see journalists lurking at the bottom (alongside estate agents, which rather rubs salt into the wound). Knowing this makes journalists truculent about what they do - being a dirty hack becomes a kind of badge to wear with pride. But treating journalists with respect is the least you can do - and you may even learn to love them.

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