The cringe-worthy things journalists do

A longtime journalist turned PR professional reflects on the things that irk him about his former career.


This week marks four years since I became a PR professional after spending nearly two decades as a newsman.

Since going down with the ship when the Rocky Mountain News stopped the presses after 150 years, I’ve had few regrets about my career move to PR. Sure, I miss the big news stories, the energy of election nights, and the irreverence of the newsroom, but witnessing from a client perspective how the changing news media operate makes me even more comfortable that I’m no longer a journalist.

While most of my friends continue as journalists and I continue to be a news junkie, I am disheartened by the direction of aspects of the profession. It is even clearer in my job as a crisis communication practitioner.

Yes, there are still good reporters, editors, and producers out there, but there don’t seem to be as many as there once were. I don’t take questioning the Fourth Estate lightly, so I have put together some firsthand examples of practices that made me cringe as a PR professional, and as a journalist.

Numerous reporters have told me point blank that they did not care about my client’s point of view or response because they felt they had a better story without it.

I worked with a reporter who brought a hidden camera into a private psychiatric facility for youth, oblivious to any privacy laws and inured to basic tenets of common decency. The media outlet for which the reporter worked complained when we called it out.

Journalists who had reported on a lawsuit filed against a client later showed no interest in reporting that the case had been thrown out due to lack of evidence.

I heard a reporter claim that he was granted permission to talk to a victim because he had spoken to the person’s family. Turns out, the family told him to get lost and then hung up on him.

I’ve seen reporters use obviously planted information about my clients, without questioning or caring about how they were being used.

I’ve seen reporters rely on outdated reporting by other news outlets and repurpose it as new reporting without checking the accuracy or whether there had been updates.

Numerous reporters have called me 30 minutes before deadline asking for comment on a story they had been working on for weeks.

A reporter interviewed my client for two hours and used 10 seconds of the interview on air, all of it out of context.

I’ve seen such one-sided reporting about my client that the outlet’s ombudsman acknowledged that it had failed basic journalistic standards.

I’ve seen a reporter seeking negative information about my client interview dozens of customers, all of whom had positive experiences. The reporter finally found one who had a negative experience, and that was the only customer used in the story.

I’ve seen reporters base a story on the one or two people who were against a certain issue, when hundreds were in favor of it.

I’ve heard reporters complain that my client was not responding to questions, and when we did, they didn’t use any of the information, buried it at the end of a story, or used the information to make the story even more negative.

I must note, that for each bad example, I have good examples of reporters adhering to the rules of fairness and good journalism. I just wish that it continued to be the trend for the future.

Gil Rudawsky heads the crisis communication and issues management practice at GroundFloor Media in Denver. He is a former reporter and editor. Read his blog or contact him at grudawsky@groundfloormedia.com.

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