Despite plummeting sales figures, newspapers remain an important part of any PR campaign. It is not just because newspaper titles exist online, as well as in conventional hard-copy as bought in newsagents or from news-stands. It is because they are staffed by a range of journalists, specialists and commentators who are opinion formers beyond their immediate readerships.
Many are often called upon to appear as guests on daily ‘newspaper preview’ slots on channels such Sky News and the BBC News Channel as the papers hit the streets the night before publication date, from around 10.30am. This raises one of the other important reasons why newspapers remain important to PR campaigns, and in society more generally – their power of agenda-setting.
The content of these paper previews fills a good chunk of the airwaves on the TV and Radio at the end of each day. The content of the papers themselves frame much discussion in news programmes during the day, and provides source copy for plenty of other presenters to refer to, whether on phone-ins, DJ chat, or inspiration for booking guests.
It’s no wonder that if you catch these preview slots on a regular basis, the lack of diversity of the faces and voices filling the sofas/seats becomes a real concern. Viewers and listeners get used to the same names. Too many of them are names that too many aged under 40 would never have heard of because they are merely names from the 1980s being give profile resuscitation.
Where are the voices from the regions and nations on an on-going basis, outside of the Independence debate, for example? Where are the young? The old? Ethnic minorities, the disabled and the unemployed? Fresh thinking, established thinking. Voices from the regional press, and voices from the bloggersphere? People from inspired campaigns, like Long Live SouthBank for example, who might have a unique take on the news?
Unless you have been to one of the more rarefied schools, you are unlikely to have shared a classroom with a pundit on one of these shows. They share a similar lack of diversity as our politics. I’m lucky enough to have been to a comprehensive with one of the exceptions – financial commentator, and opinion leader, Louise Cooper. More voices please – more imagination in booking guests.
One other problem which raises a bigger ethical dilemma is the number of senior PR practitioners appearing on these slots. Journalists are one thing. There is a reason they should be appearing on these slots, providing insights into how stories develop, and profferring the very opinions they are employed to write.
Having PRs on such slots could provide a conflict of interest, as the audience cannot be expected to know who their clients are, and whether they might be representing them in what they say in the discussion. They could also be using their access to such a slot to secure new clients in the future.
I’ve even watched one such PR refer disparagingly to a PR in such a slot as “a mere PR man” as if he was excused, unlike myself, from being a member of such esteemed company.
Much better to have a wider range of voices from across the journalist world and beyond amongst the wider audience, than rely on “the usual suspects”, whether PRs or not – and only call upon PRs when there is a direct relevance to their insight being called upon as part of the news agenda, or in a specialist edition of such a review.
For all their faults, I still switch on as often as I can to get a quick fix of the news agenda – whether it’s the previews on Sky News, or BBC News Channel on the TV, or BBC Five Live, or LBC on the radio. Since it is more realistic than them listening to Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme, it’s also one of the first things I recommend my new students do too!