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Who Killed Journalism? You Did

We're easy targets, those of us in the PR field. It's easy to say that we're slimy, dumb and get in the way of good journalism. Over my PR career I've worked with my share of morons and liars.

But not all of those were in PR, many were also in journalism. Many were also in technology. Many were in printing. Many were in auto repair or many were investors.

Yes, morons and liars are everywhere.

So when an unnamed PR pro writes that many PR folks really aren't that good, he's right. But he's also just enjoying the fact that PR people are an easy target. Why? Because really, we shouldn't exist.

Let me explain: the theory goes that if you have a good product or a good story, then you'll get exposure. People who report the news will find you, they'll do the digging and the work to grab the important nuggets of information and present those to you.

You believe that? Really? Are you sure?

I've had reporters tell me that they believed a certain topic was very important to their readers, but they couldn't report on it because they just didn't have time. I've gone to others with a story and been asked "can you just send the release?" Then a story would appear without any interview or additional reporting. Is this the fault of the PR pro?

Yesterday I attended a forum on the First Amendment at Suffolk Law School that included Pulitzer Prize winning columnist Eileen McNamara, Media Critic an all-around-good-guy Dan Kennedy, leader of the Nieman Foundation Ann Marie Lapinski and Linda Greenhouse, whose long list of accomplishments doesn't begin to sum her up.

All agreed that truth is a major casualty of modern reporting. McNamara lamented the fact that today's reporters don't seem to do research in their own archives. They lamented the use of Beltway Insiders who regularly offer up quotes just to provide a story with "the other side" of an issue.

But Dan Kennedy made the point that sometimes sources have one key selling point: they return calls when you're on deadline.

This is a real problem in political reporting. It's also a problem in technology PR. Too often reporters take on the easy story. Audrey Watters, in writing why she left Read Write Web, noted that no one seems to care about Education Technology. This is a huge story overall, something that impacts not just parents and students, but our future as a nation. She writes:

What I learned -- and what I continue to be reminded of with unfortunate frequency: the tech blogosphere really doesn't notice education stories. Not really. Not unless teachers do something untoward on a blog. Not unless a tech CEO, past or present, makes a major education-oriented donation. Not unless there's an rumored iPhone 5 angle involved.

Back at the forum, when I stood up to ask a question, I mentioned that I work in PR. A woman laughed. Yes, she LAUGHED. Yet, everyone in that room had been subject to PR at that moment and didn't know it. The forum itself was an attempt to raise the visibility and importance of Suffolk Law School, especially among its alumni. That's because Suffolk operates in a competitive environment that includes Harvard, BU and BC, all with law schools that have strong alumni networks. As a proof point, consider that Greg Gatlin, a former Boston Herald staffer and current PR flack for the school, was on the panel.

So who is at fault for the lousy and lazy journalism? Is it the journalists? Is it their editors? Is it the PR people who feed them crap?

No. It's us, the media consumers.

You see, reporters write stories that get them noticed, stories that will satisfy their editors. Editors are under pressure to satisfy their bosses, the publishers. They need to drive traffic to the website, grab clicks, gain conversation, build "mindshare" and all those other marketing things. They do this by writing stories that are attractive to an audience.

If you write about the iPad, your clicks go up. If you write about education technology, you can hear the crickets. Write about large constitutional issues, no one cares. Write about Rush Limbaugh and you're front and center.

So, do you want to blame PR folks for being stupid? Sure, go ahead. Want to blame reporters for being lazy? Feel free.

But next time you click on a headline, think about why you're doing it and what really matters to you. Then consider if you really want to click there.

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