Never thought that fur-flying, drag-down verbal combat would ever be the prerequisite for a top public relations management job, but that actually was the deciding factor for one particular position in my career. Yes I must confess: I have been in more than one fight with a reporter.

It was just part of my job.

cobramongoose

Should we as public relations professionals list fighting with a reporter/editor/analyst/blogger as a vital talent on our CVs, and more importantly quantify the number of times that we have dropped the gloves and tried to pull the sweater over the head of a member of the Fourth Estate?

Some in the agency world will recoil at this thought of having a less-than-satisfactory qualitative relationship with a madam or monsieur in the media, but then again many working for agencies have never gone near a reporter. This is the case in far too many instances.

During the course of my career, I have noted that in many ways adversarial relationships with reporters have become easier. And this makes sense as I moved from politics/government to environmental issues to technology/business. With each step, the level of skepticism and cynicism subsided…although it never went totally away, and it never will.

One only needs to watch the daily skirmishes between the White House Press Corps and Obama spokesman Jay Carney to see this point. The trappings of the 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue may scream decorum, but in reality the knives are hidden behind notepads, recorders and microphones. Carney is fighting for his own job and his boss’ continued tenure twice a day. It goes with the political territory.

One of the greatest disappointments of my life was actually walking into the White House briefing room. The briefing room is about the size of a swimming pool that has been covered over…because that is exactly what happened. FDR needed the pool to fight polio. LBJ sealed over the pool to care and feed the media…a handful of newspapers, three networks, two wire services and some radio reporters…that was the White Press Corps back in the turbulent 1960s. That is not the way it is now.

There has been an explosion of media since then, many digital and counting, and yet the White House media briefing center is essentially the same. The blood flows in the aisles just the same.

Room 1190 (news conference venue) of the State Capitol in Sacramento is similar in size to the White House briefing room, but thankfully it does not house reporters. These California political reporters have their own offices across the street from the capitol, so the familiarity-breeds-contempt factor is not as pronounced. It was also a place that I as Governor George Deukmejian’s press secretary engaged in open warfare with a few less than friendly reporters, even though I was able to maintain civil/friendly relations with the vast majority of the Capitol Press Corps.

sacramento

There came a time when a reporter here or an editor there became a thorn in our collective side. The agenda of a reporter may be completely incongruous with our agenda. Members of our staff were wondering what I was going to do with a thorn in our collective side. Some were privately conjecturing that I was a wimp because I did not exact immediate retribution.

Some even suggested going to the editor of a thorn in our collective side. Bad move. If the Governor’s office was up in arms about a particular reporter, then that served as a red badge of courage for the thorn in the eyes of his or her editor. Talking to the reporter could work to a point, but one ran the risk of ratifying to the reporter that the denizens of the capitol were unhappy…essentially urging more of the same.

What is the key vulnerability of any reporter/editor/analyst/blogger? Getting beaten.

The media as I have loosely defined the entity thrives on news and information in a timely manner…such as right now. Despite the pressure generated from ones-and-zeroes digital technology and the economic downturn thinning of its ranks, the media is supremely competitive. There is always one rival that causes a gnashing of teeth.

For the thorn in our side there was a large publication located in California’s biggest city. The thorn kept a sharp eye on how California gathered and spent its shekels. Back then, California did not ask its citizens for more shekels even on a temporary basis and amazingly even had a rainy day fund of shekels. No smoke and mirrors at that time, just spending no more shekels than was coming in from the good folks of the Golden State.

For some mysterious reason, the shekel reporter for the large publication in California’s biggest city found out that our estimate of shekel deliveries was going to be way short of projections. I wonder who was that mad leaker? The thorn in our side did not find out this information until it was too late, when the headlines blared across the front page of the large publication in California’s biggest city. The thorn in our side was beaten on a critical story.

The thorn’s editor was none too happy. The thorn suspected me. The thorn was not too happy with me.  Reporters need to be careful when going after a news source, in this case the biggest news source in the Golden State.

Alas, the thorn is our side is no longer with us.

Advertisements