David Pogue, Public Relations Appearances and the Independents

New York Times tech writer David Pogue is in the news, but not as usual.

NYT Public Editor Arthur S. Brisbane:

Journalists are accustomed to seeing public relations pitches in their inbox. I was surprised, though, when I recently got one on June 8 touting tech columnist David Pogue’s speech to PR professionals in which he credits PR with providing most of his ideas.

The pitch revealed that for $159 I could view a video of Pogue’s “Pitch Me, Baby” speech set for an online airing on July 11. The speech is derived from an earlier appearance at a public relations conference called the Media Relations Summit, staged by Ragan Communications.

Even to those not super familiar with the way newsrooms work, this should seem abnormal.

People working in public relations have a sole job — to get their company or product in the media. Of course, lots of little things go into this, like media packets, trying to schedule interviews and demos, providing review units and more.

In journalism school, a good bit of time is given to having proper relationships with PR professionals. If journalists get too close to the PR realm, the risk of tainted stories becomes a very real danger. In the better newsrooms, the mere appearance of this can get a journalist in trouble.

Of course, there is balance. PR people do help create stories about products, especially in the technology sector. But stories should be far more encompassing than just passing along some PR copy.

What About the Little Guys?

It’s a little different for those of us who write in the indie scene. Most of us with moderately popular websites get dozens of emails a week from PR firms about new websites, ad opportunities and more. For me, these are fairly easy to ignore.

It is much harder to ignore emails from individual developers. Many developers will offer App Store promo codes in exchange for a review.

Now, I don’t write many app reviews here or at Macgasm. I just don’t like reviewing software.[1. The one exception is OS X releases.]

Any hardware reviews are of devices I’ve purchased myself.

Some writers — especially inexperienced ones — struggle with publishing negative[2. Of course, some people complain about every single thing they review or discuss. I tend to tone that sort of writing out.] reviews. People don’t want to write something that could potentially hurt the business of independent developers.

The reality is that if a PR professional or developer reaches out for a coverage or a review, they should be prepared to receive the writer’s honest opinion.[3. And not blacklist the writer’s publication.]

Writing a positive review out of guilt is stepping over the line for a journalist — but so is getting too close to PR people or developers.

But these problems aren’t just stumbling blocks for small publishers. Here’s Brisbane again:

Times readers deserve to be assured that journalists don’t get too cozy with the P.R. professionals who strive to influence coverage. A virtual army of publicists, media specialists and others stands ready every day to infiltrate the news with stories that help their employers.

[via Daring Fireball]