Bad PR: How To Be A Modern Journalist


Have you ever wanted to be a journalist in today’s fast-moving, exciting, cutting-edge, new-media, buzzwordy-buzzword age? I bet you have! You can’t fool me – I know you used to watch the New Adventures Of Superman as a kid and quite fancied the Lois Lane lifestyle: hunting out bad guys, tracking down sources, breaking big stories (admittedly while usually ending up somehow embroiled in those stories to a depth that only a super-powered alien could extricate). It’s OK, you’re not alone, we all wanted to be Lois Lane, myself included. I had the shoes and everything.

Usually, to achieve this lofty ambition I’d suggest that your options were fairly limited – either plug away at blogs and other self-funded and often-largely-unread outlets, and hope to get picked out of the crowd Little-Orphan-Annie-style by some benevolent throwback of a newspaper magnate (good luck in finding one); or you work your way through the tried-and-tested system: take a journalism course costing thousands of pounds, hope it’s one that the newspaper you’re applying to actually respects/recognises, secure a bottom-rung position and begin covering ‘man bites dog’ stories for the ‘Weird News’ section of your local rag until the will to delve has been so beaten out of you that you’re as unwilling to achieve real depth as an asthmatic scuba diver, and then return to the office to file 300 words of copy only to spend the day watching it getting trimmed back and pruned until your day’s work is a 20-word stub just before the classifieds. I’m joking of course, this doesn’t really happen – you’d not have left the office to do any of that: that’s why phones were invented.

Still, that’s what I’d usually offer as advice (not that I’ve been a journalist myself, you understand, so my advice is purely pithy conjecture and semi-satirical commentary). However, today I’m feeling a little more generous, so I’m going to let you into a little secret: there are simpler solutions, easier paths to tread. In short, there are shortcuts. And I’m going to share those shortcuts with you right now:

Ctrl+C.  Ctrl+V.

Sorry, perhaps I should have clarified – when I said shortcuts, I meant keyboard shortcuts. PC keyboard shortcuts at that – I’m sure there are Apple+C and Apple+V professionals out there, but I can imagine they largely went on to become designers.

Now, you might think it dismissive of me to write-off large sections of a vocation (and a vocation I have a lot of affection and admiration for, at it’s best) by reducing it to simple copy and pasting. Yet, that’s often what modern journalism has become – see, for example this fine piece of work in yesterday’s Telegraph:

Half-term costs parents £400 keeping kids entertained

Parents can expect to fork out over £400 keeping the kids entertained over half term, it was revealed yesterday.

Researchers found shelling out for childminders, babysitters and food and drink through the week leaves a huge dent in the pockets of mums and dads up and down the country.

And then compare it to this press release from nPower:

Parents can expect to fork out over #400 keeping the kids entertained over half term, it was revealed yesterday (Sun).

Researchers found shelling out for childminders, babysitters and food and drink through the week leaves a huge dent in the pockets of mums and dads up and down the country.

While you’re at it, why not compare the full article in the Telegraph with the full press release, and spot the difference between the two. I’ll give you a clue, other than replacing the #s with £s, there isn’t one.

Still, this is an unnamed, uncredited, byline-less article, so there’s no real deceit here – I mean, other than passing off word-for-word PR copy as actual news without marking up to the reader that the words they’re reading are not those of the respected news source, but are essentially paid-for copy from a company looking to get its name in the papers – right? If only it stopped there… but it doesn’t. Just ask Daily Record reporter Vivienne Aitken, who penned this scaremongering piece on childrens’ habits:

THE nation’s “tweens” are growing up faster than ever before, a study revealed yesterday.

A report found the majority of children between the ages of eight and 12 now own a mobile phone, have an email account, make their own meals and regularly eat takeaways.

They are likely to be fashion-conscious, worry about their weight, shop for their own clothes and own a laptop.

It also emerged a large percentage of girls in the age group are already wearing make-up.

The study of 1500 parents revealed eight out of 10 are terrified their children are already “behaving like adults” despite their tender years.

Shocking stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. And you’d not be the only one to agree, as a press release from www.TheBabyWebsite.com agrees with Vivien slightly more than you’d think possible:

The nation’s ‘Tweens’ are growing up faster than ever before, a study revealed yesterday (Sun) .

A report found the majority of children between the ages of eight and 12 now own a mobile phone, have an email account, make their own meals and regularly eat takeaways.

They are also likely to be fashion-conscious, worry about their weight and appearance, shop for their own clothes and own a lap-top.

It also emerged a large percentage of girls in the age group are already wearing make-up.

The study of 1,500 parents also revealed eight out of ten are terrified their children are already ‘behaving like adults’ despite their tender years.

Again, barring the deletion of a few superfluous ‘also’s and the application of a house style of numbering, the copy is entirely untouched. You might wonder – why would any journalist be content with putting their name to an article despite not having written a single word of it, and presumably knowing full-well that it’s paid-for copy from a company looking to get it’s name in the news? Unfortunately, this is modern churnalism. And it’s why I’d advise any would-be Lois Lane to stick to hoping for a Daddy Warbucks to notice your income-less blog.

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  1. #1 by Rob McD on October 26, 2010 - 09:59

    Want to BE Lois Lane, you say? Yes I, er, definitely wanted to BE Lois Lane… *ahem*

  2. #2 by Marc Naimark on October 26, 2010 - 10:38

    So the best way to get your work published as a journalist is to become a copywriter for a PR firm.

  3. #3 by Heather Van De Sande on October 28, 2010 - 20:49

    I’m liking the mental image of you wearing Lois Lane’s shoes – you really have the legs for it.

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