Shady media relations are a scourge on democracy


Now more than ever, truth and accuracy matter. 

The role of communication officers and media relations people is an important one. They prepare subject matter experts so the average Joe can understand their complex jargon, but they’re subverting democracy at the same time. 

Many journalists consider media training to be facilitating deception. However, while there may be some truth to this, it isn’t a belief to which we should fully subscribe.

The role of the “kind and supportive” media relations officer is much more complicated. They have a difficult job, full of intense deadlines, pushy journalists, and sometimes even pushier clients. 

Used correctly, media training is a tool for powerful and honest storytelling that furthers the interviewee’s own interests. Unfortunately, too many journalists have had negative experiences with media relations, especially ignored interview and statement requests. 

Not responding to these requests isn’t a media relations strategy. It’s highly problematic and makes you seem shady. 

Another example of bad media relations is denying simple interview requests. Many media relations people believe media organizations are always looking for a “bad” or “negative” angle—an accusation levied at a lot of student journalists.

If student journalists are the sensationalists some people think we are, journalism is in peril because we’ll be taking over major media outlets—whether you like it or not. 

When you, as a communications officer or a media relations personnel, deny an interview request, the risk of incorrect information being published increases exponentially. 

When denied interviews, we can’t establish a timeline of events or fact-check and correct sources who have said something negative about your organization. The reader deserves to know your side of the story, but you failed them, not the journalist who gave you a chance. 

When a statement is sent in lieu of the more accurate interview, they are often 30 to 150 words long, vague, don't answer any questions posed, and it's very clear the person writing the statement had nothing to do with the decision-making process. 

The public lacks the information necessary to hold leaders accountable; leaders continue their work with impunity. They know their name won’t be attached to any statements sent out. Heck, they probably don’t spend more than 30 minutes looking at the questions the journalist posed. 

Student leaders and public institutions—including governments and universities—have a duty to answer media requests from their student papers fully and properly. If their work is for students, they should be willing to respond to the very same students who work as student journalists to inform their communities.

So here are some media relations tips: answer the questions, be honest if you don’t know something, don’t spin things unnecessarily, and know it's okay to give a full account of your story. 

After all, the truth has many sides. Defending democracy is on all of us. 

Asbah is a third-year Biotechnology student and The Journal’s Senior News Editor.

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