Some people have a way with words, and other people... oh, uh, not have way.

Steve Martin

Jul 25, 2014

When no comment is OK

Here's how PR people wind up journalists

Welcome to this, my first blog post.

Why another blog? Well, maybe I’ve got nothing better to do, having finished the box set of The Wire. Also I do think there are issues worthy of discussion, which matter to writers, journalists and those involved in the world of PR – either as practitioners or victims.

There’s always been a close and usually antagonistic relationship between PR people and journalists, as there must always be between poachers and gamekeepers. This is becoming more intense and more unhealthy as newspapers shed staff and have to rely on PR copy and – sad to say – increasingly unmediated PR copy.

So it’s hard to understand why PR operators don’t make their press releases as newspaper friendly as possible and make it easy for the lazy or overworked news editor to just slip their stuff in. Obviously a lot of PR people have never worked on newspapers and don’t know how they operate or understand how they work. That’s not their fault, but I do get the impression they haven’t the slightest intention of finding out either. Do these people never read newspapers?

I know, I know, I’ve been there and understand there are constraints imposed by clients who have to be kept happy, who insist that the first letter of any job title (which is strictly not a title but a position) must be capped up and – in some awful cases – that the first letter of any noun should be capped up, in defiance of the accepted rules of grammar. Also the client’s company must be described as `leading’, presumably in the hope that one day a news editor won’t notice and hit the delete button.

We journos get all that and although we heave a sigh more in sadness than anger and make the correction, at least we understand why the PR person has done it. There but for the grace of God and all that.

But what about the other stuff, the wholly unforced errors and gratuitous infelicities, things you’ll never see in any newspaper which, if the author hadn’t put them in their press release, might have resulted in the harassed news editor just using the stuff.

The one that drives me furthest up the wall is the use of `commented’ instead of `said’. This word is hardly ever used outside of press releases. Why do PR people use it when they would never dream of doing so in everyday speech and when they never see it used in that context in a newspaper?

It’s worse when the writer prefaces the `he/she commented’ with `Speaking about the subject of this press release’. So you have a press release on the winning of a contract, in which the author has devoted a few hundred words to the winning of a contract and then we read “Speaking about winning the contract, he/she commented…’’

What else are they going to be speaking about (sorry commenting on) at this point, for crying out loud? The Pragmatic Sanction of the Holy Roman Empire?

Could I name any PR practitioners who are guilty of these solecisms?

No comment.