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September 20, 2005
Is it OK to blog a company's story pitch?
Back from lunch and there are probably, oh, about 25 new story pitches in my inbox. Traditionally, the pitches are a hidden department of journalism. We don't talk about them much, in part because we're loath to admit that we get story ideas from PR people. At story meetings, you'll hear reporters say: I heard this from a CEO or an engineer or a venture capitalist. If it's something they heard from a PR person, it will generally go without attribution. (The exception is in politics, where the PR spin itself becomes a key part of the story.)
So here's my question. Now that we're opening up the process and making things more transparent, is it OK to blog our interactions with PR? This would give more perspective on how companies are pitching their line and positioning themselves. My feeling is that blogging pitches is OK, but journalists should make it clear that the conversation is on the record. Otherwise it can look and feel like an ambush.
The flipside: How about PR people blogging their interactions with journalists? They certainly have a right to. It's up to them to decide whether doing so is in the best interest of their clients.
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Tracked on September 21, 2005 01:24 PM
I'm proud (or embarrassed) to say that my e-mail was one of the 25 in Steve's inbox:-) Specific to this entry (and from a PR perspective), I believe that anyone pitching a resource, business and/or service should be 'fair game' to be included in a blog (or in print for that matter).
When you think about it, the PR people are likely the ones training the 'spokespeople' who will ultimately end up being quoted by the journalist anyways.
I've been sourced (quoted) numerous times even though I was 'pitching' a story. Personally, if a journalist actually quotes a PR person I would in turn question the reporting capabilities of that individual – especially when executive-level spokespeople or management were available to be interviewed.
I must admit, this is a VERY hot topic within the PR profession and one that I'd like to hear more about from Steve, Heather or others at BusinessWeek. Thanks for the thought-provoking entry!
Posted by: Matt Batt at September 20, 2005 04:50 PM
I think blogging about your PR pitches is a great idea. It would be interesting for sure, but more importantly it may hold companies and PR pros more accountable for what they say.
Posted by: Gary Goldhammer at September 20, 2005 04:57 PM
Yes, it threatens transparency on the process, but the question for each journalist is whether passing on the "pitch" and the source will lead to less sources in the future.
You're faced with the dilemma. If you expose the source, people who don't appreciate it will stop sending you anything, or will try to game your e-mail inbox. If you don't expose the source, others will accuse you of being a shill.
There's probably room for both kinds in the journalism world.
Posted by: Jim Durbin at September 20, 2005 05:28 PM
I think blogging about pitches is OK, but to your point, Steve, journalists should make it clear that the conversation is on the record first. BTW, David Berlind actually did some interesting experiments with media transparency on his blog last spring...here's the link:
Posted by: Mike Manuel at September 20, 2005 06:08 PM
I'm not sure I agree with everyone. I think that there are two types of pitches: those from people you don't know who are just "flogging a story", and those that are personal email communications from colleagues who are suggesting a story, an angle, a company, whatever. In the former case, it's fair game, but in the latter case, I think it falls under the heading of "don't violate the privacy of email communications".
I've been musing about these privacy questions on my own weblog, actually, including when it is or isn't okay to turn a discussion from a mailing list into a weblog posting.
I think this is another facet of the same issue, and, really, does it matter whether it's from a PR person or someone else? Does that automatically grant you a certain level of rights that you wouldn't take with a private email communique, Stephen? You and I have had private email discussions, and I'd sure be surprised if they showed up on your weblog, as you'd be surprised if your message showed up on mine, yes?
Anyway, read this, let me know what you - and your readership - think of my perspective:
Posted by: Dave Taylor at September 20, 2005 06:09 PM
Let's assume that the "on the record" criteria is met for everyone else, (and that's a good thing) and then look at Dave's point. The assumption of email privacy is good, and we should keep that. In every case where a journalist or blogger has wanted to publish something I emailed, they've written and asked if it's ok. But being belt-and-suspenders, I start any email I don't want quoted or published with NFP - Not For Publication as the first paragraph of the email. (I've done that with moderated comments, too). That's never been violated. It lets the journalist know what I expect, and there are fewer problems when the ground rules are explicit.
I think I'd go with Matt's formulation - if's not good journalism if you quote the PR person and not the CEO (or more primary source). As along as everyone knows the ground rules, you can probably take either approach.
Posted by: Greg Burton at September 20, 2005 07:35 PM
It's not just OK, I'd say it should be a requirement. The fact that a company or politician pitched the story is part of the story: it's the company line.
If I'd ever run a newspaper (fat chance!), I would have decreed at least one day a month flack-free day: no story ideas from PR allowed, not even any calls to PR people. Now that's the no-spin zone.
Now before friendly pr people come after me, I'd say this is more about pushing reporters to report than it is a comment on PR.
Posted by: Jeff Jarvis at September 20, 2005 10:37 PM
I definitely think showing how stories go from pitched to published is in line with transparency. I have often blogged about bad pitches and the occasional (very occasional) good one.
I think it raises the bar for PR and journalists.
Posted by: B.L. Ochman at September 20, 2005 11:23 PM
Speaking only for myself, I think it is fine for a journalist to write about PR Pitches. I can't understand why it is so bad to get a story idea from a flack. If a story is interesting, compelling and relevant, what does it matter where the idea came from? If a PR agent is hyping a new product, what do you care so long as that product is part of a larger story about industry trends? Surely informing the reader is the only thing that is important.
Posted by: Alice Marshall at September 21, 2005 08:22 AM
From my selfish perspective as a subscriber to BW* I want the journalists to act in my interests. It is in my interest to be able to see where a story comes from. So I want you to be explicit about your sources.
* I subscribe to the dead tree version. It's pretty much my only spending on news media these days.
Posted by: Andrewa at September 21, 2005 09:40 AM
Transparency is a really great thing. Just because some citations returned by Google are paid for, doesn't mean I won't use 'em. I feel like I've got a better idea going in. Reading is a pretty intimate activity and readers can end up feeling violated when things are ambiguous or murky. Marketing seems to have reached a point of sophistication where they begin to victimize themselves. I like knowing I'm reading an ad in any form or shape it takes, and if I discover an attempt to finesse me, that product (and occasionally that company) goes on the boycott list. Private communications are one thing, but if a PR person got peeved when you revealed them as a source, I'd be more than a little suspicious of the motives of that PR person.
Posted by: Pete Zievers at September 21, 2005 10:36 AM
Good morning ladies and gentleman and all the ships at sea. You could be better served blogging about your own operation than someone elses. If I make sails for boats, I'm not going to establish a blog or website to yak about the sails every other company is making. Let's no make things too difficult.
The flipside: No engine, no problem you might say.
Posted by: Jim Dermitt at September 21, 2005 10:52 AM
Oh what a slippery slope...
Where do you draw the line between a private conversation and a public one? I send short and to the point notes to reporters (as I hope you know), are you going to point out the PR folks you like vs. the ones you who send you pitches you don't?
I'm with what Dave T is saying - how will you qualify a PR person vs. someone sending you a story idea?
It all seems very loosey goosey to me. I think it's all mainly inside baseball to those not in the PR / Journalism loop anyway.
Posted by: David Parmet at September 21, 2005 01:35 PM
Boy have you received some interesting comments! As someone who's been on both sides of the fence I know that if you blogged about the pitch you'd probably most often make the PR person mad or scared. In either case you probably wouldn't be on their "list" anymore. Of course maybe that would be your goal. If you're going to do it I think it's only fair to let them know up front so they don't get blind-sided later.
I've also found that the very people doing the pitching and trying to get publicity for their clients are very often extremely shy. For example, as a radio reporter it's interesting to see the reaction when I open the mic to them! Many that I talk with just want to be in the background.
Of course if PR people blog about their interaction with a reporter what's the chance that the reporter will make sure he/she never provides an outlet for their story ideas in the future?
Posted by: Chuck Zimmerman at September 21, 2005 01:54 PM
Thanks for all the comments. You've led me to think more about this issue. I think blogging a pitch would be interesting in the following scenarios:
1) A company of interest takes a new or imaginative approach in pitching, giving us a new look at how it's promoting itself.
2) I spot a new trend, where I see, for example, that companies are using technology to personalize the pitch, or offering tickets to the Ice Capades.
3) Analyse pitches as current documents on society, business and communication. What assumptions are they making about what we know and what we're interested in. People analyse all sorts of documents for this research, but not--as far as I know--pitches.
Posted by: steve baker at September 21, 2005 02:59 PM
Love the idea. Please do it. It's all about transparency. People are already looking behind the journalism/PR curtain anyway; the more real information available, the better.
As for bloggers discussing their interactions with journalists, I do it all the time on my blog, www.mediaorchard.com. Although I know I am sometimes stepping on toes, my experience is that journalists appreciate honesty more than most folks, so I'm banking on that to carry me through.
Posted by: Scott Baradell at September 21, 2005 03:38 PM
One of the great things about the blogosphere is that it facilitates and champions transparency. If reporters want to blog PR pitches and PR people want to blog interactions with reporters, fine, as long as they clearly state their policies in advance. Ambush is the right word here, and gets to the heart of the issue. Blogging an unsuspecting PR person's pitch is a hostile gesture. Blogging a pitch that the PR person wrote knowing it could be consumed by a larger audience than the recipient (with commentary) is provocative and maybe even enlightening.
Posted by: Lisa Poulson at September 21, 2005 04:25 PM
I can just see the kinds of things that would get analyzed in scenario 3...
1. buzzword trends. Seriously. On a weekly basis, which buzzwords are on the way up, which are on the way down. Cross reference with niche media use of buzzwords. Who are the pioneers, who are the early adopters? Who's usually a day late and a dollar short? Or are they a dollar short?
2. Convert buzzwords to tags, and create BuzzClouds. Make a catchy acronym like SMUG (So Much Unnecessary Garbage).
3. Trend analysis in business formation. Do pitches come from specific industries or industry clusters in clumps?
I'm trying to be a bit humorous, but you really seem to be onto something there,
Posted by: Greg Burton at September 21, 2005 04:51 PM
I've truly enjoyed the comment train since my original post and I think Steve's idea is a good one. Let's face it there are a lot of PR people out there doing the 'same old thing' - blasting e-mails and/or releases to hundreds of reporters then following up with a call to see if they've received it! And we call ourselves communications professionals?!
Bottom line, PR people and journalists alike need to hold each other accountable. The very nature of 'blogging a pitch' seems to be quite fair and perhaps a wake up call for those 'PR flaks' (self not included):-)
On the other hand, I’ve packaged stories with multiple sources for reporters only to have them convert it into their ‘own work’ without using my sources but certainly running with the story idea. Granted this is the nature of this exchange. But the key to this exchange is ‘accountability’ and it’s a two-way street. Let’s face it…we need each other:-)
I love the topic and will continue to read on...
Posted by: Matt Batt at September 22, 2005 09:39 AM