How PR pros can turn the tide of bias in today’s news cycle

Some media outlets report news with a particular leaning, even a political agenda. That doesn’t forgive the withholding of information from a given organization. Here’s what can be done.

I once had a client who refused to let me pitch Fox News. 

The client was releasing education data. Its job wasn’t to analyze or comment on the data—just make sure the public had access to it. My point of contact was adamant that I didn’t pitch Fox News nor give its reporters embargo access to the data because “they are too right-leaning. I’m sure they’ll catch wind of the data eventually.” 

I said “OK”—and I regret it. 

The general public likes to blame news outlets and reporters for news skewed by political agendas, but what they don’t know is PR’s role in the cycle. 

We play a part in helping reporters get access to news—and we have the power to make changes. Here’s how:

Don’t let personal political beliefs affect which outlets you pitch. 

We must ask: As we pitch liberal stories about feminism in the workplace, are Fox News reporters not covering because of their own stance on the topic? Or is it because a PR person didn’t pitch them due to personal bias? 

If Fox News was pitched more liberal stories, its audience might get a better view of other perspectives. We must give journalists equal opportunity to report on the news. 

Encourage your clients to be well-rounded in whom they target for news.

If a particularly right- or left-leaning news outlet wants to take a stance on your client’s news, that’s harder to control. But not pitching those outlets at all or granting them early access to embargoed news simply because of how you view them only perpetuates bias. 

I know there are PR people who disagree on the basis of pleasing their clients. They argue it’s our job to shape and frame our clients’ stories, which includes placing them in their desired news outlets. 

I don’t disagree. But intentionally excluding a news outlet from getting access to hard news is like putting a blindfold on half the population. If a publication reports the news in a biased way, that’s a different issue. I just care that they have the chance to cover the story at all. 

Differentiate the news outlet’s opinion page from its reporting.

Let’s go back to Journalism 101. A reporter’s job is to report the facts in a non-biased way; a good news outlet will go in depth on both sides of issues. 

When it comes to whom you pitch about a news story, it should not matter which side of the political spectrum the editorial board leans. It’s our job as PR professionals to push back on clients when they forget the difference. 

Provide equal access to information and sources.

What about when a media outlet leans so far one way that, according to the 2018 media bias chart, it’s “nonsensical, damaging to public discourse” or even fake news? As PR people, where do we draw the line? 

We don’t. 

Sure, there are some outlets that are so unreliable they aren’t going to be worth your time to send a proactive pitch. Because not everyone agrees on what those unreliable outlets are, give everyone equal access to your client’s news, data and spokespeople.

Give everyone equal access to the truth.  

Shannon Tucker is senior director of media relations at SSPR.

COMMENT

2 Responses to “How PR pros can turn the tide of bias in today’s news cycle”

    Nora says:

    “If Fox News was pitched more liberal stories, its audience might get a better view of other perspectives. We must give journalists equal opportunity to report on the news.”

    Oh, give me a break. While I don’t disagree with going “across the aisle” in your distribution, pretending that Fox News and other right wing funded companies would change their tune if they just got better pitches from agency hacks is laughable.

    We get it. It’s a new day. “Media” practices none of the principles of objective journalism any more. It’s about ratings. It’s about well funded special interests using media to push their agenda. It’s the world we live in, for better or worse. But let’s not blow smoke up each other’s butts either.

    ” A reporter’s job is to report the facts in a non-biased way”

    And when Faux News and their ilk get around to doing just that, be sure to let us know.

    Shannon Tucker says:

    You bring up a good point, Nora. News outlets are becoming more unabashedly biased in their reporting, and—almost like sports teams—have divided the country. We aren’t getting the same information, and as a result, we view the world differently. Why do you think the American public has come to accept a clear bias in their news consumption? The comfort of knowing and being part of a team. Your critique is pointed, but as consumers, our behavior supports this process. How could we start to change that? To clarify my point in this context, I meant a lot of our clients have products, services and ideas that transcend politics and we want to share their information with as many people as possible—not just the people on “our team”.

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