Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Public Relations Ethical Dilemma

Since when has it been ethically accepted to publish "news" stories from public relations personnel in the newspaper? Are we that hard up that we have to freelance stories out to the same people who write press releases to get them published?

The Bangor Daily News published a story by Rachel Rice on a female astronaut who visited Mars Hill. There's a disclaimer at the end of the story:
Rachel Rice is employed by the University of Maine at Presque Isle. She wrote this story exclusively for the Bangor Daily News.
Wow! Doesn't that sound like the BDN got a great deal! Here's the kicker...Rice doesn't only work at UMPI, she's the coordinator of media relations. It's her job to push these stories onto newspapers, the radio, and into magazines.

If it seems a little bias it's because it is. There is a reason there is a divide between journalism and public relations. Here is how the exchange is supposed to go.

PR girl:
Hey reporter! Here is a press release I wrote about this female astronaut that is coming to Northern Maine. She's from out of state.

Reporter guy:
Interesting. Why is she doing that?

PRG: She's friends with one of the teachers at UMPI.

Hm. That's fishy. I'm not sure it's a good fit for our small community newspaper. Lemme talk to my editor.

PRG: Ok. I'll wait on the line.....

(2 hours later)

RG: You're still there?

Yup! What did your editor say?

Well, our editor isn't really into it. Sorry.

Ok. I'll keep emailing and calling you about it until you guys change your mind.

Perhaps the BDN, with it's small staff, doesn't have someone to send up to Presque Isle to cover the story, but felt it was interesting enough for some press. WHY they decided to hire the Rice as a "freelancer" to write the story is beyond me. Even if they were desperate they should know better.


A said...

Couldn't agree more! It's fine to do a story on the astronaut, no matter what her reasons for coming, but not ok for the newspaper to play up an "exclusive" story from a PR rep.
Sheesh. Perfect example of editors with no training in journalism ethics.

Nicole said...

I bet they didn't hire her. I bet she wrote it on the university's time and only sent it to the BDN. Exclusive? Not so much.