My 47-year career has taken me to both sides of the street as both a flak and a hack. So I’ve seen things from each side of the scrimmage line. Right now, in my semi-retirement, I’m actually doing both simultaneously as a freelance journalist, mainly as a Senior Contributor at Forbes.com, and consultant for Detroit PR and marketing firm Franco.
The cool part of playing both roles is it sensitizes you the challenges, frustrations, wins and losses you encounter in each position. So I decided it might be fun, and useful, to have a couple of internal conversations with both sides of me. It’s OK to eavesdrop. That’s why I’ve posted them here. You can even contribute to the conversation in the comments. Here we go.
Key: JE=Journalist Ed
PRE: I’ve got a client that wants me to get national coverage on the fact they opened a new office in East Dumpy. Would you bite?
JE: Don’t know. What business are they in?
PRE: They sell printer paper in packs of 400 instead of 500-sheet reams. The CEO insists this will help solve what he believes is a massive office supply storage space crisis at firms around the country. He says 100 fewer sheets saves 7/8-inch for each pack.
JE: Sorry, I’ll pass. I think it’s a made up crisis.
PRE: Wait! What would it take for you to do this story? I’m under a ton of pressure. New client and the agency is busting my ass to make them happy.
JE: First of all, office issues, paper or otherwise, are not what I write about. You have to think of that before pitching a reporter. Second, even if I was your guy, you can’t just say something’s a crisis. You have to be prepared to back it up with some research–proof. A CEO just trying to get some publicity with an unproven scheme isn’t a news story. Finally, I feel for ya, but my masters are my editors and audience.
PRE: (trying to pull out a win) But you’re a business writer. Aren’t office storage issues a business story? What if I came back with some stats that back up the client’s claims. Would you reconsider?
JE: Possibly. I’d have to look at the info then decide if it’s BS or not. I’m swamped right now. On deadline, so I gotta run, but get me that stuff ASAP and I’ll let ya know.
PRE: OK, cool. I’ll have it for you by the end of the day.
(PRE is sweating. He knows there really isn’t much, or any, research on the subject, but smells pulling this one out of his butt…sends email to JE)
PRE: OK, did you get that stuff I sent you? Pretty convincing, I’d say.
JE: What’s the Institute of Office Ergonomics and when did they do this study? I never heard of them and Googling it comes up with nothing. Plus, I’m calling BS on the conclusion that over 3-million square feet of storage space could be saved each year in the U.S. by using smaller packs of paper. Did your client pay for this study?
PRE: OH, they’re a, um, boutique outfit. Don’t even have a website, and, well, the client did subscribe to the study but the IOE is totally impartial.
JE: Nice try. Not buying it. Very sorry
PRE: Well, you’ll be sorry when your competitor runs it.
JE: I’ll take that chance.
PRE: Hi. Thanks a lot for doing that story with my client, but he’s kinda pissed.
JE: What’s the problem?
PRE: He says you took his position on “solar powered pencil technology” out of context and actually misquoted him.
JE: Really? What part of “I believe solar powered pencil technology will render ink an archaic form of inscription” was wrong? I recorded the entire interview, as agreed to, and that’s exactly what he said.
PRE: Check your recording. He claims he actually said, “I believe solar powered pencil technology will render ink a second tier form of inscription.” Plus, the way your framed it was inaccurate. Going into the quote you wrote, “Solar Pencil CEO Al Bum makes an unproved claim regarding his product’s rising role in imaging, declaring…….”
JE: So what’s the issue? He can’t prove his declaration and there isn’t one industry expert who will back it up. I know. I tried finding one.
PRE: I get it, but couldn’t you have gone into that quote a little softer? I’m taking a lot of heat for this.
JE: I understand your situation but I’m writing news stories, not ads.
PRE: Yeah, sure, of course I know that but at least resist the use of judgmental adjectives and just state the facts.
JE: It’s not judgmental to state the fact that there’s no documentation whatsoever your client’s claims are viable.
PRE: Why did you even accept the story if you weren’t convinced it had merit?
JE: Fair enough. Why did you agree to sell a story you knew wasn’t true?
PRE: I didn’t know and I long ago vowed I would never knowingly lie to a reporter
JE: You’re in a tough spot when your clients lie to you. So how will you explain things to him?
PRE: Yes, I’m in a very tough spot. I’ll just blame everything on you 🙂
JE: Heh…OK…Good talk!
EVENT NOTE: I’ll be on a PRSA panel Feb. 19th in Royal Oak, Mich. with several other journalists who have gone to the “dark side.” Details at this link. Should be pretty lively…and..there’s breakfast! Hope you can come if you’re in the area.