Wednesday, May 11, 2005


This exit interview with Daniel Okrent, the departing Public Editor of The New York Times, should be mandatory reading. The dirt is interesting, but the key to the interview comes after the question, "What are the hardest aspects of the job?" Okrent's response is below:

The hardest one is sorting out self-interests. A person who’s been written about and complains, “I was treated unfairly, and here’s why” obviously cannot see the situation objectively. Similarly, the reporter or the editors who handle the story don’t, because they have an automatic self-interest as well. There are very few things in the world, or at least in the world of journalism, that are purely black or white. It’s hard to conclude that something was fair or unfair, that special pleading isn’t manifesting itself. That, from day one of my tenure, has been the hardest thing.

I'm not sure whether Okrent has reflected on this, but what he gave was a justification for Public Relations. We're paid to defend a client's interest in environments where it is hard to determine truth. Where there is doubt, we defend a client's side of an issue vigorously. When there is clear error, we counsel a client in how to correct a mistake in order to preserve public trust.

We are called spinmeisters but we aren't, if we do our jobs well. As Okrent says, it is the hard to know whether something was fair or unfair. But we strive for fairness toward clients, especially when there is a howling mob that would prefer to lynch them. Then, we hope that eventually the truth will come out, and our clients are both in the right and still in business.


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