David Pogue, the NY Times celebrity tech writer, has been reprimanded by the Grey Lady. His crime? Having the audacity to help those of us in PR do our job more effectively, and in turn, his. I speak, of course, of his participation in events sponsored by the public relations industry in which he outlines how practitioners can be more effective with pitching their story ideas.
So, what’s the big deal? Here’s what the Times had to say on their blog:
The “Pitch Me” presentation might strike some as pretty harmless. But there is a reason why The Times ethics policy proscribes it. 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.
Ahh, “infiltrate” the news. You have to love the wording with that one. With one swoop, the Times undermines the entire public relations profession, characterizing our most publicly-known responsibility – media relations – as duplicitous in nature.
Of course, the Times decision also undermines both their own writers, depicting their staffers and freelancers as prone to corruption, and the intelligence of their readers. Anyone with half a brain understands that a story idea doesn’t appear through an epiphany. It must originate from a source, whether from a company itself if it is an original breakthrough, or as an extension from a previous original story.
Before the rise of public relations, the onus was place on companies or individuals to raise the media’s awareness to such stories. PR became a “thing” because of the demand for a more effective information gathering process.
Pogue himself says as much during his presentations:
On a later slide, he displays eight recent New York Times columns and identifies five as having come from public relations people. Pogue explains that, as a reviewer of new gadgets, there is no comprehensive database he can rely on to learn about new stuff. Hence he relies on companies and their hired pitchmen to tell him about new products.
Pogue’s basic advice boils down to two imperatives: 1) “Save me time,” and 2) “Don’t be a robot.” This means that public relations people should tailor the pitch to its audience (avoid spamming, in particular) and avoid jargon and other extraneous matter.
So, has the Times overreacted? They aren’t the first, and certainly won’t be the last media publication to make life more difficult for PR folks. But, its prominence and the public nature of its announcement may make many smaller outlets rethink their decision to participate in industry sponsored events.
As someone who finds incredible value in these “meet the media” panels as a PRSA board member, that’s not good news for anyone.