Journalism is harder work for less money

Journalism has got harder. Journalists have to contact more people, more often, using email, phone and sometimes social media, such as Twitter or LinkedIn, just to get an answer. And this is all for the same money, or often less.

More PRs are barriers to information rather than enablers. It takes longer and more effort to get fewer, less interesting answers. And then you get hassled for writing the truth.

Chris Wheal

Whealie, with phone headset and recorder

How it works (or doesn’t work)

This is a genuine example: I was given six contacts with direct email addresses. Many were US contacts, which meant time delays between email exchanges.

Three got their PRs to reply asking for more details, to which I replied. One PR arranged an interview time but cancelled it at the last minute and then never replied to any further correspondence.

The others failed to even provide written answers when I resorted to sending individual questions in the hope of getting some answers. So none of the six contacts provided produced any content.

I made approaches to several other sources, approaching named individuals direct. All responded via PR contacts seeking more details. I eventually got three telephone interviews and wrote the piece.

Misquoted allegations

Afterwards I got an email from a PR suggesting I had misquoted their spokesman. They suggested the wording they wished he had said and asked that I change it.

I checked my notes and also my recording of the interview and sent them the exact quote in full. I explained that I had not included the stronger later sentence as it was defamatory against rival firms and possibly libellous, but that I had not misquoted him.

The PR simply thanked me. She had been trying it on.

The email said:

Hi Chris,

We saw the article has gone live and it’s a really interesting read, but XX has noted what he thinks is a misquote around how he talked about perception of XXX.

The quote says ‘You may not like XXX, but you will trust that this brand is going to be around in 20 years’ but XX believes he actually said ‘XXX may not be your trusted IoT brand today, but it’s a brand you can trust will be around in 20 years’.

Is there any scope to get this amended?

I replied:

He said in full: “You may not like XXX, but you will trust the brand. You’ll trust it to actually be around in 20 or 30 years. You’ll trust it that it will give you some form of guarantee , even if it is not explicit. You know they’re not a bunch of charlatans that will disappear.”

I think my contraction of that is not misquoting him. I left the last bit off fearing a company or individual might believe he was referring specifically to them and calling them a charlatan might be construed as libellous.

What has changed

  • For my first 20 years a journalist if you rang 10 people, two or three would have been in and spoken to you at once, four more would have called you back on the same, or next, day. Now all 10 get their PR people to contact you to arrange a call. The PR has to ask more questions, no matter how clear the brief was in the first place. That will take days/weeks.
  • If you call a PR they will ask you to email. If you email, you’ll need to call to actually get an answer.
  • Our working week has extended. There used to be no point in trying to call someone Friday afternoon. Now you can email a PR at 6pm Friday and get a response. I have, this week, done an interview at 7.45am.
  • PRs and interviewees expect to have the chance to vet any quotes used and to rewrite them the way they wish they had said them, rather than say the right thing first time.
  • There are so many competing “media” outlets that it is hard for PR and contacts to know if you are worth talking to: a proper journalist, an amateur blogger or a caller with an axe to grind. Even if they decide you are worth speaking to there are many other equally genuine competing demands.
  • You often have to write the headline and sub-headings and format content, perhaps providing images and captions and alt attributes.
  • You might have to take photos, record and edit audio and video and curate and embed wider content from social media
  • You are expected to promote your work on social media and elsewhere, once published.

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