Thursday, February 12, 2004

Why We Need PR 

I happened a few days ago on a blog that carried a letter from a 1st Lieutenant who is serving as a public affairs officer in Iraq. His comments about the news media are worth reading. I'm noting one point he made because I find it true in my experience. Here is what he wrote:

The accuracy of news reporting is affected by the fact that most reporters
are very poorly read on the subjects they are covering. Given that the
storyline is planned/ written before they show up (only dates/names need be
inserted) there is little motivation for them to actually become educated on
the world they are supposedly depicting.

Another major contributor to inaccuracy is most reporters are only in
country for a month at a stretch. Though some embedded reporters were around
long enough to establish a rapport with their units (during the war, before I
got here) that is no longer the case. Media embedded during the war were
learning at the same rate as their soldier escorts -- Iraq and warfighting was
new to everyone so there was little room for one to call the other
"inaccurate". These were also higher paid, more famous correspondents.

In post-war Iraq, reporters show very little interest in getting a story
right to a T. "Close enough" reporting is the norm. After all, does the
American public really care if CNN calls a Bradley Fighting Vehicle an M1? Or
if there were 13 detainees taken instead of 10? The American public probably
doesn't care and the story is close enough to not be called a lie. These minor
deficiencies in the facts are important however because they show a lack of
scholarship on the reporters' behalf.

Soldiers like to see themselves on TV but they also like to see things
broadcast correctly. When things are incorrect, it feeds their belief that the
reporters are reporting only what they want to report. This lessens soldiers'
overall hospitality towards the media and -- given enough time -- causes them to
leave camera crews standing in the motorpool.

Lack of understanding sums my own experience with reporters and why PR practitioners are essential to help them get stories right. Reporters are better educated than they ever have been. They don't understand not just because they have no motivation to do so but also because they have frequent deadlines and have little time to reflect on their craft. The job of PR practitioners is to guide them into a proper view of what they see, to give them context, to supply facts so reporters write accurately.

It is true employees are depressed and disappointed when they see inaccurate representations in the media. And, they do develop grudges against reporters. Sometimes, these are not warranted: Often, they are. As PR practitioners we have to fight the "they're-out-to-get-us" mentality and convince employees to continue to cooperate.

That is what this 1st Lieutenant is doing in Iraq. His job is tougher than mine.


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