Guest post: Why do journos always look for the feelbad factor?

In this guest posting, PR Craig Pearce argues that journalists are too negative

In the ever-clichéd – and oh-so-simplistic – battle between the good and evil of public relations and journalism, it is journalism that is more often the devil incarnate.  

Mainstream media, when given a choice between a good-news and a feel-bad story, well, you know which way the editor/chief of staff/producer is going to go. There is no decision for most editors and journalists to make between running a story with a positive, hopeful perspective and that of a negative perspective.

A recent example of this is the particularly mean-spirited coverage across mainstream media of Socceroo Tim Cahill. Cahill had media fingers pointing at him for being drunk and booted out of a nightclub. It ends up there was no case to answer.

Of course, we only have ourselves to blame. Presumably we buy/tune in/search for/respond to the media that features the negative vibes.

Building relationships

Public relations, in opposition to the majority of contemporary mainstream media, helps build and maintain relationships. Its intent is the opposite of media’s reality, which is seemingly to be divisive. When operating at its optimum, strategic potential, public relations is about helping organisations and their stakeholders (often large swathes of society) understand and empathise with each other.

At its absolute apogee, public relations can help both organisations and their stakeholders change their behaviours so all parties are more aligned with each other. It is not about pulling the wool over anyone’s eyes, it is not about propaganda. It is about all relevant parties helping to see each other more clearly and with greater equanimity.

If you use the metaphor of law, media takes a confrontational, litigious approach, whereas public relations is more negotiation and, to a lesser degree, conciliation-centred.

 Why so negative?

One day I would like someone in the Fourth Estate to show me the research that proves we do predominantly want the negative stories/focus and it does help the media moguls make money.

If was proven scientifically the community did want all the bad news the media serves up to them, then social commentators and the government and, maybe, selective media would potentially give them a serve for catering to society’s lowest common denominator. By doing that, the logical conclusion is that the media is then actually encouraging a more negative societal mindset.

And if research pointed out that we didn’t want so much bad news or negative/non-hopeful perspectives on issues, then how does that position the media? As undermining people’s aspirations for hope and yearnings for more positive perspectives?

Media, clearly, has an inherent social responsibility. It serves an incredibly important purpose (I’m not going there, but let’s leave just use a few terms like freedom, education, knowledge, community, democracy), but it is a purpose that is often unfulfilled. It is a shame that it has become so debased by its insistence of focusing on the negative.

There are plenty who will argue that the purpose of the media has always been to cater to the community’s predilections, no matter how negative, solipsistic or inane. Equally, however, there are plenty of media apologists who will burn in hell before they budge from the belief that the role and responsibility of media is to get to the heart of, and make public, key issues that impact on society.

The black and white, for and against, media raison d’être argument is:

  • It exists purely to make money for its owners/shareholders
  • It provides a social service for the good of all society.

Media survives on public relations’ assistance

Of course, it’s a symbiotic relationship between public relations and the media and there are multiple examples of crossover between them. But the media – with the ever-increasing destruction of its resources by the moguls continuing apace – should realise what a good wicket/pitch/court/etc they are on when PR professionals do so much of their work for them:

  • Research
  • Creative (and often socially important) story ideas
  • The lining up of 3rd party interviewees
  • Issues options
  • Opinion piece drafting
  • Helping interviewees speak coherently (oh the media will love this; and yes I despise media coaching when its gets to its governmental anti-apex of ultra-spin, but there really is a mutually agreeable middle ground!).

Without the provision of information from PR professionals to B2B media the existence of that sector would, in particular, be profoundly threatened. It simply would not have the resources to exist. And with some statistics saying that 80% of mainstream media stories are generated, or extensively assisted, by PR initiatives, then media as a whole might not be far from the scrapyard as well

At the end of the day, journalists should thank their stars for the PR industry. They would be lost without us.

Craig Pearce is a freelance PR professional with 14 years business communication experience.  A version of this piece appears on his blog.


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