Friday, August 26, 2005

Ashlea's MA questions: 2

Thanks so much for agreeing to answer a few more questions, your responses thus far have been very valuable to my research! So, it would be great if you could just comment further on a few more questions:

1. Do you think that magazines need to practice distinctive forms of PR because magazines are media? Do you notice that they do or not?

This is an intriguing question which I will start to answer with another question. Do PR or advertising agencies practice distinctive forms of PR because they are media?
The principles of PR apply, surely, to any brand or product. There is a well established, but constantly developing, set of practices which can be applied to more or less anything, and it is my observation that magazines make use of any practice which seems appropriate.
Having said that, there are certain recurring practices which I referred to in my earlier answers. The use of surveys or polls is one frequent practice, with the results being syndicated to or picked up by other media. It is also sometimes the case that a magazine will syndicate an interview with a particularly hard-to-get celebrity or other figure of public interest.
A magazine's editor should understand what makes a good story for other media and may be able to direct PR staff to fruitful possibilities.

2. Do you think that it is an important part of an editor's job to get their title talked about in other media? How do they liase with PR people to this end?

I think that any editor who paid more attention to getting PR than to directing their magazine would soon be out of a job. I honestly believe that PR opportunities must arise out of the magazine's normal remit.
Take, for example, Mark Ellen's regular slot on Mark Radcliff's Radio Two night-time show. Mark Ellen is the editor of Word, and he appears on the show as each issue appears on the news stands. This is fabulous PR but it only works because there is a large overlap between the demographic and interests of the radio show and the magazine; it also works because Mark Ellen has a deep and broad background in music journalism and because he comes over very well on air. His blatant plugging takes the form of a rambling conversation about music, musicians and the vagaries of show business.
I doubt very much there was a PR person involved at any stage here.

3. Do you think that a desire for PR coverage affects what kind of stories are written/the editorial content in magazines?

Again, I believe that a magazine will only be successful if it focuses on its readers' hopes, fears, aspirations and needs. A magazine does not succeed by PR, it succeeds by attracting and retaining a particular readership which advertisers will pay to reach. If the magazine starts to focus on stories which will make good PR it will lose its way and the readers will not stay with it.
Furthermore, it is not uncommon for newspapers to steal material from magazines (and other media) with no acknowledgement at all. One example: several months ago the Observer Music Monthly ran a small piece about Bruce Forsythe's taste in music. Somewhat surprisingly he praised the bass player of the Red Hot Chili Peppers for his musicianship. The following day (a Monday) either the Mirror or the Sun (I forget which) ran a page two story, headed as an exclusive, about Bruce Forsythe being a fan of the Red Hot Chili Pepper's bassist. No acknowledgement of the original source. In one sense this was excellent PR (the OMM got something which the Sun thought worthy of an "exclusive" story early in the paper) but as there was no public acknowledgement it was not really PR at all. This goes on all the time.

4. How does doing PR for a magazine affect the stories its journalists write? Are stories written with the express purpose of generating media coverage for magazines? (Yes, I know that questions 3 and 4 are quite similar - please feel free to answer them both as one question!)

The answer above probably does cover this but I think it is worth stating very clearly that a magazine MUST concentrate on serving its readership, and if any PR-worthy material comes out of that all well and good. Any other approach is likely to lead to a loss of focus and readers pick up on this very quickly.
However, I am not privy to every business meeting in every magazine and I imagine that there are occasions when a PR person will succeed in exerting a degree of influence over some decisions made by an editor. If the result succeeds as an appropriate piece for the readers, fine; if not, see above.

5. When I asked: How do journalistic ethics affect questions 4 and 5?
You responded: If the decisions are being taken by business managers, in what ways do you see this impacting on journalists? I am perfectly willing to give you a more detailed answer to this question but I need to know more about why you are asking it.

So, basically, I am wondering if as a journalist, is there some sort of ethic that would dictate that you shouldn't write a story just to get PR for your magazine, or to bad-mouth a competitor or to help a magazine that is from your parent company if the story itself is purely there for that purpose. Is the journalistic responsibility to the readers or the business side of the magazine? (I hope that this clarifies the question a bit!)

There are two answers I can give you here.

As a journalist I would be very unhappy about being expected to write stories which simply generated PR or promoted another title. I suppose it is a form of ethic but I would expect to be writing "real" stories for the readers. If I was asked to or expected to do this as a matter of course I would look for another job. There is no journalistic satisfaction in this kind of work and if I wanted to work as a PR I could probably earn more money.

As a journalism educator I make it very clear to my students that they MUST write for the reader. Again, I suppose you could call this inculcating a set of ethics about their behaviour as journalists. But it is also good business practice for the reasons I have tried to make clear above. Magazines stand or fall by their ability to attract and retain readers, and this they do by their whole editorial approach. PR activities may have an effect at the margins but the core has always been and must always be the editorial offering.


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