Let's Talk About Ethics, Baby

So, I stumbled upon an interesting blog this week about journalists giving public relations advice to paying clients. This practice has been brought to the forefront of ethical issues as of late due to Dan Abrams leaving broadcast journalism behind to start a consulting firm. He will continue to stay on the NBC payroll, however, as an outside contributor.

Is it right for an Arizona Republic writer to tell a business how to get covered by the Arizona Republic, and then be paid for it? Doesn’t that feel like insider trading or something? At the same time, I have heard journalist tell PR people what works at their media outlet. Channel 3 here in Phoenix even sends out a tip sheet to PR professionals on how to get your story covered. I think what sends the situation of them giving this information out into sticky territory is that they are getting paid for it and are specifically catering to a clients needs. This is in contrast to telling general PR practitioners who may have a number of clients. As a client in Phoenix, wouldn’t you prefer to hire someone who knows the ins and outs of the Arizona Republic and may be able to affect its coverage?

This is a hot topic among professionals, some of whom are particularly vocal in their outright disagreement with the practice. But, before quickly writing it off as unethical, there is another side. We are in a journalism school, taking journalism classes and some would argue that we are journalists. I attend Society of Professional Journalist functions and professionals act like I am trying to steal their secrets.

Maybe I am.

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14 Responses to Let's Talk About Ethics, Baby

  1. cclark2 says:

    I do not really feel as if this is completely unethical. If it is going to help our clients (and in the long run, us) why wouldn’t we want to know exactly how to get our stories printed. I think that it is just smart thinking on the journalists side. A way to create a new career when newspapers are suffering major layoffs. However, shouldn’t a good PR professional already know these things? Why should we paying somebody to tell us how to do the job that we should already be accomplishing?

  2. cate415 says:

    I think that it is definitely bordering unethical when a newspaper writer tells a business how to get covered. News coverage is supposed to be based on what is newsworthy at the time, thus, if every news writer told businesses how to mold themselves a certain way to be ‘newsworthy’, the news would inevitably artificial.

  3. dfishfel says:

    It is definitely borderline I would have to agree. I think the way to tell if it is unethical or not is to know exactly what was said. If the journalist tells you exactly what needs to be done then I think it’s unethical. But if they just hint a little then maybe not completely unethical. However, I still don’t think it should be done. It’s really not something to be ordinary and custom to journalists.

  4. letsgoblogging says:

    I have mixed feelings on this. I think the part that makes this unethical is that the journalists are getting paid to give hints on how to get into the media. I have come across many tip sheets relating to the best way to pitch certain reporters or publications, etc., but they are for the public to see and come at no charge. When a journalist is getting paid to give a PR professional advice on how to get his or her client in the news, then I think that is a little sneaky. Plus, it takes all the fun out of being in PR in the first place. I think it’s a lazy move on the PR industry’s behalf.

  5. marialinda17 says:

    I agree that this practice is walking into dangerous territory. Although I get daily e-mails from the Valley PR blog and it often includes tips from journalists on how to pitch stories for clients, this is certainly different from paying someone to give insider information on how to get a business’s story covered. It feels like fabrication. Although the information may be factual, the story itself was created to appeal to a newspaper or TV station in an artificial manner. I suppose it just makes me a little uneasy. Do newspaper journalists really want to write about businesses this way?

  6. mekelly1 says:

    I think the fact that this service costs money is what is unethical. It is one thing to send out a tip sheet for everyone to see, but once you start giving insider information it becomes a conflict of interest. Journalists are supposed to be neutral, unbiased observers for their readers sake and once they cross into the territory of telling PR professionals what to say to get into the paper for a price it devalues the news. It also makes PR professionals who utilize this look pretty lazy to pay for a service that they should know how to do themselves.

  7. agilliam says:

    It’s not just PR people that these journalists are selling information to, it is specific clients as well. I think that is a very interesting aspect of it. It is further blurring the line between journalism and PR, which is already pretty foggy.

  8. brittz87 says:

    Yikes! I’m not sure how I feel about this post. This is definitely creeping towards the unethical side of the line. I do agree that whatever benefits our client should be the only thing that matters, but operating in an ethical manner will always be something that is a personal goal of mine. There was also a huge conflict of interest that existed in this issue. I agree with the comment above that said that we as the hired PR professionals are supposed to be unbiased. Though we have all of these good intentions, it is very hard to main neutral and ethical.

  9. knish21087 says:

    Often times I feel like there is a lot of favoritism involved in PR and journalism. It’s basically like you have to suck up to people to get exposure! It makes me kind mad to think that just because someone has a better relationship with a newspaper and does things their way than they will gain more exposure than something that is more relevant or newsworthy. I may sound like I am rambling, but this topic makes me kind of heated.

  10. ccharvey says:

    This post is really interesting. I can agree with both sides of the situation. But really I see it as no different than a former TV producer or magazine editor deciding to work in PR. What about print or broadcast interns who decide it isn’t for them and decide to go into PR. Don’t they know some of the “secrets” or ins-and-outs of getting a story covered? Also, what may work to get a story covered in the Arizona Republic may not be the same thing that works for the Tribune. As far as ethics, I think it is really important to act ethically no matter what position you are. Newsworthiness should be the most important aspect.

  11. amyfoley1975 says:

    I think this practice is unethical, but I am sad to say that that is the society we live in today. It is a you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours world. I understand the basis for the issue of letting PR professionals in on how to get their story covered, more money for the journalist. I think it should be the content of the story that gets it published not what the PR professional did for the journalist. PR professionals should just look at what is newsworthy at the time they submit their story to ensure it gets published, not rely on a journalist to tell them what will be printed after they pay him/her.

  12. agilliam says:

    So it seems like there are two issues here. One being that if you previously worked for a media outlet and then decide to go in to PR and the other, in my opinion more serious, issue of someone being being paid by a news outlet for some type of journalistic work, and at the same time also getting paid by a client for giving PR advice. Am I right?

  13. ksorensen19 says:

    I think that even though some people may think it is unethical, there definitely has to be a very personal relationship between journalists and PR professionals. I don’t think that journalists giving tips to PR people on how to get their company is unethical. As journalism students we are constantly told how journalists prefer to be approached and pitched by PR people, so it’s really just a part of the business.

  14. kakeane says:

    In general, I do not think journalists giving tips to PR professionals is unethical. It just seems like related industries giving each other tips on how to work together best. I do, however, agree that this should not be something to pay for. The information is not even worth that much money, as PR professionals should know how to get stories into publication.

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