If you ever sat through a Journalism 101 class, you probably remember the professor discussing a sacrosanct rule of the newsroom: There must be an iron curtain between the news and advertising departments.
The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics
is clear on the topic: “Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.”
But that line isn’t always as clear as it should be, and I recently asked readers of the Mr. Media Training
blog to help a fellow reader (we’ll call him Tom) who is facing a problem with a local TV producer.
Tom’s company frequently releases updates that are relevant to the local community and which could be considered “newsworthy.”
The problem? He works in a small market with just one television station—and the head of that station is irked that Tom’s company hasn’t purchased advertising with it. The station chief has repeatedly complained to Tom for having the audacity to call his station for news coverage considering that the company has declined to advertise with them.
As a result, Tom is at a bit of a loss. His company policy (dictated by the corporate office in a faraway state) prohibits such advertising, but he wants important community news to receive the coverage it deserves.
Many of my blog’s readers took a pragmatic stance, even if they were somewhat troubled by the ethical breach.
A reader named Deborah wrote, “I would advise your reader to consider advertising…if he thinks that his audience is watching this source for news about his company.” @GartnerComms
agreed, writing, “I’d say just go ahead and buy some advertising to ensure further goodwill for your news coverage.”
Brett went one step further, suggesting that “since the head of the station has already linked news coverage to advertising dollars, I would think the company would be in a position to negotiate news coverage during the ad buy.”
Other readers said they would refuse to play ball with this revenue-obsessed station manager.
Richard suggested finding alternative news outlets: “I would focus my efforts on directly reaching your target audience rather than relying on the TV station when it clearly isn’t interested. That means social media, collecting email addresses of potential customers, and possibly emailing your releases to them.”
Jeff had a similar take: “My advice is to ramp up social media and speak directly to consumers or other target audiences through the wide range of social media channels available from Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest to YouTube, SlideShare and Vimeo.”
Stephanie asked whether the local station is owned by a larger group. “If so, the reader might consider taking his concerns ‘up the chain’ to the corporate overlord.”
And P. Smith argued that excluding the station from future news releases might make them feel some pain: “Perhaps no longer receiving your news might stimulate some sorely needed sober second thought.”
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Personally, I’m with the readers who wouldn’t play along with this station manager’s hardball sales tactics. He’s entitled to run his station the way he wants—and I’m equally entitled to say, “No, thank you.”
How would you respond in this situation? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section.
Brad Phillips is author of The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview. He is also the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm, and blogs at Mr. Media Training, where a version of this story first appeared.