Public Relations by Jeannette Duwe: Reporters make easy targets, but they are just people, too

JEANNETTE DUWE, owner of Duwe Public Relations and a former journalistJune 25, 2013 

Jeannette Duwe

When it comes to "easy targets," reporters top the list along with actors, politicians and other "celebrities." Criticized for their appearance, writing style, word choice and news decisions, successful journalists learn early on to develop tough skin.

When it comes to media relations, however, what I've never been able to grasp is why some people think hurling malicious insults at a journalist will help their cause.

Take, for example, this story (retold here with permission from a local journalist):

A few months ago, a reporter wrote a story about the lack of safety regulations within a specific industry. The reporter spent weeks researching the issue and interviewing numerous people, including lawmakers, law enforcers, physicians, business owners and others. Some were quoted, others were not.

The day after the story ran, a business owner, who was not featured in the story, called her to express his displeasure with the story. He did not question the authenticity of the issue - or the basic content. He was simply enraged that his business wasn't included!

Incredibly, the businessman proceeded to question the reporter's age, education and journalistic integrity.

He yelled countless insults and then had the gall to demand that she write another story - about his business!

If you were that reporter, how would you respond?

Another local journalist shared with me recently that she receives phone calls almost daily from viewers who feel the need to critique her hair or wardrobe that particular day.

In October, Jennifer Livingston, a Wisconsin TV news anchor, went head-to-head with a viewer-turned-critic who emailed her to alert her to the fact she was "fat." (Since when does the scale have anything to do with journalistic ability?)

Livingston, who had battled her weight for years and had struggled with pregnancy, responded to the man via a four-minute editorial on the news. She called him a "bully." Support for her actions went viral and she later appeared on the "Today" show, "Good Morning America" and "CBS This Morning."

While most reporters wish they could do what Livingston did, they don't, essentially respecting the opinions of others - warranted or not.

Our relationship with local journalists "feels" different than most "relationships" we have with people we don't know. That's because every time we turn on the TV or open a newspaper we are essentially inviting reporters into our homes. Somehow we feel like we know them personally. But we don't.

The public - and businesses hoping for their 15 seconds of fame - will do well to remember first and foremost that reporters are people, too, and deserve respect.

As for the local businessman who yelled insults hoping for a story about him, perhaps a more effective approach would be to first compliment the reporter on her story, then invite her to lunch and offer her several new story ideas to consider. Just a thought.

•••

This is my last column for Business Insider as my family relocates to Atlanta. A special thanks to Dave Staats for inviting me to write this column. Thank you for reading it. I will miss it. Wishing you every success in business and your media relationships.

duwe@duwepr.com

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