September 29th, 2016

As a long-time public relations practitioner (also known as a PR puke, flack, mouthpiece, media whore, etc.) of more than 25 years, I have seen tremendous changes in the way many journalists do their jobs, and the many challenges they face.

Yes, they are often justified in despising those PR folks who pitch them silly stories in areas they don’t cover. Those flacks who call incessantly to follow-up on news releases should be flogged.

“Hi, this is Bambi  Smith from PR Flack International.  I was just calling to see if you received our press release on our client donating $500 to global warming to show the company’s commitment to stopping the melting of polar ice caps and saving those big white bears…”

Yes, it is embarrassing to the rest of us PR practitioners, but unfortunately, there are many people who are put in public relations positions because they “like people” (or knows someone in top management). Some are even former journalists with virtually no experience working in communications in the corporate world.

They make PR pros cringe. They are often idiots.

But, as it is often said, let he/she who is without sin cast the first stone.

There are a lot of people in journalism today who are also an embarrassment to their chosen profession.  The number is growing as many media outlets are making hiring decisions based on political correctness and cost-savings rather than journalistic excellence or experience.

Journos frequently go back to their office complaining about obnoxious and ignorant PR people. Don’t feel bad. We do the same thing when talking about many journalists.

I am at the point where nothing would surprise me anymore in journalism.

As a public service, I have decided to compile the official “Dirty Dozen” list of 12 rules journalists should follow.  If you have a colleague please share it with him/her, and maybe the world could be a better place for all of us.

Here we go:

1) Contrary to what you might think, PR folks do not sit around all day breathlessly waiting for your call. It can be tough to immediately drop everything to respond to your needs in the next 10 minutes to meet YOUR (often artificial) deadline. Yes, PR folks should always respond quickly to your needs, but sometimes those needs can be a bit much.  Realize getting quick answers in a corporate setting can be a real challenge. Try to understand things from our end.

2) When we send you a news release it is an embarrassment when you turn it over to your advertising folks to call us for the “ad for editorial” bribe dance.  (Yes, it’s just as embarrassing to us when our executive discreetly (or bluntly) reminds you that we advertise with you.) If we wanted to take out an ad we would have called your Advertising Department.

3)  We realize sometimes the information we send you is often not the “stop the presses” variety.  The reality is we are sometimes forced to send out watered down news releases that have been edited and approved by 15 people, including the Legal Department. Sorry about that, but think how tough it is to get your stuff approved by ONE editor.

4) The reality is for many PR people, our jobs are basically on the line every time you call.  Our CEO does not comprehend that we don’t really “manage” or “dictate” things to the news media.  He/she often doesn’t distinguish between the employee who does our in-house paper and a real journalist at a real media outlet. Yes, a negative story can result in our unemployment.

5) No one expects you to be an expert on our business.  But at least check out our Web site ahead of time to get a rough idea of what we do. Heck, in a pinch actually read the background stuff I sent you. Your readers/viewers/listeners deserve some preparation.

6) We know YOUR time is valuable.  We also know OUR chief executive’s time is pretty valuable.  How long should we wait around for you to show up?  An hour? Two?

7) Don’t throw a hissy fit if we want to sit in on your interview.  Yes, there are some PR folks who do the “What CEO Mr. Smith really meant to say was Acme Corporation loves all children “routine.  They should be flogged.  Most PR people take notes during the interview.  That way when you go back to the office and realize your recorder was broken we can save your butt.

8) Appearances can be important.   Sorry, but when you arrive in cut-off blue jeans, sandals and a tank top to interview the CEO—rightly or wrongly— often takes it as a lack of respect. It is not a good way to gain confidence or make him/her feel comfortable that you will do your job professionally when you arrive late and look as if  you just finished mowing your lawn.

9) We all realize the reality is today you are one layoff away from joining our lowly ranks.  Don’t make everyone feel uncomfortable by asking about possible job openings for yourself (or spouse) at our company prior to an interview with our CEO. It can come across as a bribe.

10) Deal with the fact that the person you will speak to will often have been media trained. Those of us who are veterans of the PR business often media train our clients and brief them on your interview style and the direction the story may take. Many interviewees have little or no knowledge about journalism and are terrified. It is our job to level the playing field in interviews. Letting a client do an interview cold turkey could be likened to entering a gunfight with a knife (a rubber one).

11) Please, please do not offer my client the opportunity to review your story before it runs.  Act like a professional journalist. Do you have any idea what a can of worms that opens up for me? The client will not be happy unless you have written a complete and total PR puff piece, and will likely ask me to re-write your story which will irritate the hell out of you. Don’t put me in that position.

12) Realize we both have jobs to do. You want to write an honest and accurate story, and we want to make your job as easy as possible and get some of our key points across. Story errors get you in trouble with your editors. They also get us in trouble.

The reality is we both have jobs to do. My goal is to make my client look good. Your goal is to provide an accurate story to readers.

With a little mutual respect and cooperation we can both achieve our goals

Leave a Reply


    You’ve probably heard the slogan, “You never have a second chance to make a good impression.”

    The same is true in crisis communications.  When a crisis hits, as it did with United Airlines removing a passenger from a flight, the company had to come out with a strong message.  Unfortunately, it didn’t and today has to figure out how to pick up the pieces from a PR disaster.

    Unfortunately, it didn’t and today has to figure out how to pick up the pieces from a PR disaster.

    We have all seen the videos of a man being forcibly taken off a plane that was overbooked.  The man was bloodied and dragged off the aircraft.

    The company’s CEO Oscar Munoz initially blabbered about re-accommodating a passenger.  He also fired off an internal note to employees commending them for their actions.

    United Airlines

    Both were bad moves.

    The media, and particularly social media and talk shows,  jumped all over the airline for its insensitivity to a Chinese passenger and highlighted how offended the Chinese public was.  The next day it was revealed the passenger was actually Vietnamese and new stories about how offended the Vietnamese were flourished.

    What did United Airlines do wrong with its initial response? It is very likely the company conferred with its legal team and were told everything it did was legal.  While true, the biggest mistake was not addressing the emotional part of the issue.

    The average passenger was thinking “They could have done that to me!!” The guy had paid for a ticket and was waiting for his flight to depart when all hell broke loose.

    Years ago a phone company in Lima, Ohio, issued new phone books.  That’s not exactly “stop the presses kind of news,” but in this case it was.  The phone books contained coupons for various discounts:  pizza, dry cleaning, home goods, etc.

    It also contained a coupon offering $25 off on an abortion!!

    The phone book coupon issue exploded locally and then nationally.  The local Catholic hospital in Lima was beyond upset.  People on both sides of the abortion issue agreed that offering a discount coupon for it was tacky.

    The phone company’s legal team initially was quick to point out it was perfectly legal for the abortion clinic to offer a coupon since abortions were legal.  But the average person did not care if the coupon was legal.  They thought it was tacky and insensitive.

    The company spokesman ignored the legalities of the message and instead profusely apologized to everyone for the offensive coupon. He promised controversial coupons would never find their way into the phone book again.   The message resonated and the furor died down in a few days.

    CEO Munoz blew his initial message, but a day later had developed a new, stronger one. It should have been his initial message.

    “The truly horrific event that occurred on this flight has elicited many responses from all of us: outrage, anger, disappointment. I share all of those sentiments, and one above all: my deepest apologies for what happened,” noted Munoz.

    After all the facts have come out about the incident some cooler heads have risen over the incident.  However, it will be tough to overcome the initial horrible publicity and a reported $255 million loss in stock value.



    Published April 12, 2017 at 3:25 pm - 2 Comments You’ve probably heard the slogan, “You never have a second chance to make a good impression.” The same is true in crisis communications.  When a crisis hits, as it did with United Airlines removing a passenger ...


    President Donald Trump has a rather unique way of dealing with the news media: He looks on the news media as needing him as much as he needs them.

    This tactic goes against everything media trainers (including us!) have preached for years. We have always stressed to our clients how to effectively work together with media outlets in order to get their message out to the public. We note it is important to provide information that the news media will want to use for a win-win situation.

    However, Trump, as a successful businessman, seems to look at things from a business perspective.  He understands that media conglomerates today operate the same way as Walmart or Exxon. He knows the media needs him for readers/listeners/ eyeballs. That means revenues for their bottom lines.

    He knows the media needs him for readers/listeners/eyeballs. They need him as much as he needs them.

    In years past journalists were heralded as individuals who worked hard to uncover issues and provide an honest examination of news. Yes, there was a business side to the media, but journalists were above the fray. A threat by a company to “pull its advertising” meant virtually nothing.

    That is not the case today.

    Literally thousands of high-quality journalists have been purged in the past decade over budget cuts. Reporters with specific beats such as banking, state government, telecommunications and others with intimate knowledge of those areas have been cut loose to improve media outlets’ bottom lines. It’s not a grand calling.  It’s just business.

    National Public Radio recently listed big digital media companies (LINK) and their myriad of ownerships. Potential conflicts of interest are routine. Verizon owns the Huffington Post which has attacked Trump relentlessly; Walt Disney owns ABC and ESPN; Time Warner owns CNN and TMZ.com; CBS owns book publisher Simon & Shuster.  In the newspaper

    In the newspaper business Forbes reports that 15 billionaires own America’s media outlets. They own them to make money, not necessarily quality journalism.

    With only 6% of the population trusting the news media, according to a recent Associated Press story, Trump’s attacks on the media also resonate with his base.  When he attacks CNN for doing “fake news” the network’s bottom line suffers.

    As an example, during his recent address to Congress Fox News led all coverage with 10.8 million viewers.  CNN came in at a paltry 3.9 million, with MSNBC the lowest among all cable channels at 2.7 million.  These numbers means millions of dollars of lost ad revenues.

    Yes, reporters hate Trump. Press coverage of him during his first 30 days in office was 88% hostile (Link).  But their bosses love the revenues he generates for them.

    It will be interesting to see if coverage of President Trump changes over time as media outlets’ bottom lines are impacted.









    Published March 2, 2017 at 8:46 pm - One Comment President Donald Trump has a rather unique way of dealing with the news media: He looks on the news media as needing him as much as he needs them. This tactic goes against everything media trainers (including us!) have preached f ...


    It has been called “appalling journalism.”

    That might be considered a positive comment regarding an editing trick inserted into a documentary on gun ownership that has come to light.

    Long-time NBC Today Show star and anchor at all three major networks, Katie Couric, now with Yahoo! News, is being severely criticized for highly questionable editing in her documentary titled “Under the Gun” after it was revealed an eight-second pause was inserted to make it look as if the people interviewed could not answer her question (LINK).

    Luckily for the individuals being interviewed, one person was wise enough to record the Q&A (LINK TO AUDIO). Otherwise, questioning the bubbly media icon would have been virtually impossible and fruitless.

    Couric was executive producer, host and narrator of the piece.  Anti-gun activist Stephanie Soechtig produced and directed it.

    In the documentary, a group of Virginia gun owners was asked by Couric: “If there are no background checks for gun purchasers, how do you prevent felons or terrorists from purchasing a gun?”

    Not only did Couric/Soechtig insert a pause (8-10 seconds), but they also inserted “B” roll of the gun owners taken before the interview even began.  There is little doubt the editing was clearly designed to make it look as if Couric’s tough question made them speechless and uncomfortable.

    Couric is now calling the edit an “unnecessary mistake,” according to an individual with knowledge of her thinking (LINK).

    In an official statement, Soechtig countered, “my intention was to provide a pause for the viewer to have a moment to consider this important question before presenting the facts on Americans’ opinions on background checks. I never intended to make anyone look bad and I apologize if anyone felt that way.”

    Couric now says she supports Soechtig’s statement “and am very proud of the film.” However, a few days later she admitted she regretted how she portrayed gun activists (LINK).

    However, the National Review and Washington Post now say Couric should be fired over the deliberate misrepresentation (LINK).

    This is a classic reason why at Bottom Line Communications we strongly advise clients to always record media interviews.  Without actual audio evidence (below) the Yahoo! crew would have denied inserting the pause.

    However, with the evidence journalism takes another huge credibility hit.


    Published May 29, 2016 at 8:30 am - 2 Comments It has been called “appalling journalism.” That might be considered a positive comment regarding an editing trick inserted into a documentary on gun ownership that has come to light. Long-time NBC Today Show star and ...


    In Journalism circles, having a degree from the University of Missouri was often a ticket for success. It is not only the nation’s oldest Journalism school, it is also one of the most prestigious.

    When rankings for the best “J” schools in the nation are posted the University of Missouri is almost guaranteed to be in the Top 10 or Top 5.  However, that may have all changed due to the actions of a single media professor during the recent student uprising at the school.

    A Mass Media Professor, Melissa Click, is shown in a video asking for “muscle” to remove a student photojournalist, Tim Tai,  who was working for ESPN and in a public place.   It is a horrible act by a college professor and shows a total disregard for the Journalist’s First Amendment rights, which is against what the school has taught for decades.

    “Who wants to help me get this reporter out of here? I need some muscle over here,” says Click.

    A video of Click’s actions against Tai has gone viral and has well over 500,000 views (LINK) on a single site.  The New York Times has written an extensive story about her actions.

    What was once a sympathetic media for the protesters has now changed with the actions of students and faculty against them.

    Technically some have pointed out Click works in the Mass Media Division of the Department of Communications in College of Arts & Sciences, which is separate from the J-school.  However, she is listed on the School of Journalism’s site (LINK), which tars the entire Journalism program whether it deserves it or not.

    Click had earlier Tweeted out that she she was looking for coverage of the event by Journalists.  Later on she is clearly leading the charge against other Journalists with total disregard for their rights to cover the event.

    With the resignation of the school’s President and Chancellor the University of Missouri is clearly being painted as a college where the inmates are running the asylum.   Rather than act like a Professor, Click and other faculty members have clearly shown they were behind the student protests against the administration.

    If the University of Missouri doesn’t hire a crisis communications team immediately its entire image for producing quality Journalism graduates could likely be tarnished forever. If the school was wise it already had a crisis communications plan in place for such an incident, but that is unlikely.

    The first move would be to remove Click. But that would be a stop-gap measure since a faculty member helping foment the disturbance was an indictment on all the faculty.  The school hired her, and whether tacitly or not, approved of her actions.

    A statement issued today by the Dean of the Journalism School denied she was part of the faculty and sounded as if her days as a professor at Missouri were numbered. Click has also been forced to apologize in an attempt to save her job and resigned her “courtesy” appointment to the J-School.

    However, a Kansas City reporter told BLC that the protesters are refusing to speak with local reporters and will only do interviews with national media outlets.  That is the kind of move that will turn sympathetic local media against them now and in the future.

    It’s a bad move.



    Published November 10, 2015 at 10:23 am - 5 Comments In Journalism circles, having a degree from the University of Missouri was often a ticket for success. It is not only the nation’s oldest Journalism school, it is also one of the most prestigious. When rankings for the best ...