Fear and Loathing on the Media Trail …and what PR reps can learn from it

With such a glut of media and content options today – onlines, dailies, blogs, chats, you name it – you would think those outlets would be clamoring to get an edge over the competition. You would think they would extend themselves to uncover stories that truly inform readers. You’d be wrong, says Marty Baron, editor of The Boston Globe.

Baron (no relation, by the way) recently said the media is increasingly fearful of repercussions of their reporting. Dan Kennedy, an assistant professor of Northeastern University’s School of Journalism, who pens the well done Media Nation blog, recently included a transcript of a speech Baron gave upon being named the 2012 winner of the Stephen Hamblett First Amendment Award, which was presented by the New England First Amendment Coalition. “In this environment,” Baron told those gathered, “too many news organizations are holding back, out of fear – fear that we will be saddled with an uncomfortable political label, fear that we will be accused of bias, fear that we will be portrayed as negative, fear that we will lose customers, fear that advertisers will run from us, fear that we will be assailed as anti-this or anti-that, fear that we will offend someone, anyone.”

Baron’s remarks are instructive for those of us in the world of public relations as well. It’s never easy telling it like it is but clients that take a stance and offer commentary on any number of issues (the industry they represent, a product issue, challenges within their organization) are those that are most valuable to the media, their industry and – ultimately – their customers. Here are several reasons why being forthright is critical for clients:

  • Shows You’re Human – It’s OK to expose a few warts, to admit a few shortcomings about the industry you’re in. We don’t always need to blanket everything in marketing speak. We’re living in a world where increasingly savvy customers can see right through double-talk and spin.
  • Removes the Fear Factor – As Baron pointed out, too many news organizations are seemingly paralyzed by exposing a challenge and simply telling the truth. Similarly, being straightforward in business dealings will allow companies to gain the trust of their customers.
  • Gets Past Inertia – How many times do we think, think twice and think yet again about an issue before moving on it? It’s critical to partner with clients, decide upon a strategy and act on it.
  • Gains Credibility – By looking at challenges with an open mind and offering a candid perspective, companies will enjoy newfound credibility.