PR – the dark side; a corporate world of spin and bias. That was what they told me when I revealed I was quitting the land of local journalism and coming on board as a writer for HMS Remarkable. Leave your principles at the gangplank, they said, and do as you’re told. Yikes.
But having had a little time to switch the lights on and have a poke around, it turns out the dark side is brighter than I’d been led to believe. It’s different, the aims aren’t the same, and its processes unfamiliar, but essentially it’s still about communicating and adding to the discussions which shape our newspapers, conversations down the pub and what we see in the wider media.
Working a newsdesk is about editing and collating the different views and facts of a newsworthy item into a clear, entertaining and attractive package of information and pictures. Having made the jump, as a beginner I’ve found PR a vital part of that; putting forward views and arguments to give your clients a fair say and giving them credit for good works.
As a journalist you’re more likely to be retelling bad news, complaints and arguments than the good, positive stories – which are often ignored but are nevertheless the flip side of every report, issue and controversy. And it’s now up to me to help make sure those don’t get forgotten among the everyday soup of negative reporting.
However, it didn’t take long to grasp that the final product of all that hard work is actually – somewhat counter-intuitively – not the finished press release, which will only rarely appear in the media in the form you’ve sent it.
In PR the ultimate target is good coverage, getting your clients’ key messages and information across – a far cry from seeing my stories and headlines running off the presses week-in week-out with only minor alterations. But the switch feels like going from chairing the debate to actually being part of it.
The challenge for me is to use the journalistic skills and instincts I’ve learned to shape and power the message so that it will pass through the lines of news editor, reporter, sub and editor and reach the other side still flying the flag.
I had my first success this week when a press release I’d written appeared on a website virtually unscathed. My job then is to try to repeat that, get our clients’ viewpoints out there, and continue to contribute to the debate – be it about a planning application, new business scheme or policy drive.
Watch this space…