A new study from a video communications production firm was reported in an email newsletter for PR people, with this breathless headline: “Are PR Pros Duping Journalists? Media Trust Remains a Barrier—9 Out of 10 Digital Journalists Say They Have Been Misled By PR.”
In addition to finding that 90 percent of digital journalists (defined to include producers and journalists working for TV stations, radio, newspapers, magazines, media sites and blogs) say they’ve been misled by PR people, the study also suggests communicators are doing a poor job of providing proper disclosure in video content they distribute. Fewer than half of the digital media respondents felt they often or always received content with the proper disclosure.
The limited online coverage of the study provides no back-up or examples to bolster these alarming statistics, and I’ve chosen not to click through to the study itself because doing so requires providing the sponsor with my email address and phone number. Therefore, my comments should be taken with a grain of salt (plus a squeeze of lime and a splash of tequila).
I suppose it’s possible there’s a scourge of duplicitous PR people, taking delight in tricking harried, unsuspecting newsroom gatekeepers into accepting content that has no factual basis or where adequate disclosures aren’t made pursuant to increasingly restrictive FTC regulations.
However, the PR people I’ve known throughout my career, including my colleagues at Linhart PR, have gone out of their way to maintain rigorous standards of accuracy, honesty and fairness, while upholding the Public Relations Society of America Code of Ethics and the Page Principles of the Arthur Page Society (the first of which is “Tell the truth.”) Public relations is an advocacy profession, but offering misleading content in pursuit of client goals (as asserted in the study) not only is wrong, it’s a quick ticket to professional failure, because journalists (and the public, for that matter) have long memories.
Blues legend Bo Diddley probably was not thinking of the symbiotic-but-mistrustful relationship between journalists and PR professionals when he wrote this. But thanks in part to recent incidents involving Brian Williams, Bill O’Reilly, George Stephanopoulos and Rolling Stone, public trust in mass media is at an all-time low. Neither journalists nor PR people have a monopoly on ethical lapses, and we all have a public duty to do better.