Let's talk about PR and journalism
Is the relationship between public relations and journalism more complex than we typically acknowledge?
I’m back (after a wee holiday & a week off sick)! Thank you to everyone who took the time to fill out the survey I sent a fortnight ago — it was really useful to learn what bits of this newsletter you like, and what you’d all like to see more of going forward. If you didn’t get the chance to fill it out last week but you’d still like to, you can submit your anonymous feedback here.
This week I want to talk about the relationship between journalists and PR. Chances are, if you market yourself as a journalist on social media and you have your email somewhere publicly accessible e.g. in your Twitter bio or on your website, then you’ll have received an unsolicited press release from a PR rep. PR, for anyone who doesn’t know, stands for ‘public relations’. A PR rep’s role is to secure press coverage for their client—who might be an individual such as a small business owner, actor, author, or medical professional, or maybe they represent a huge multi-national corporation.
I’ve been interacting with PR reps/firms since I was 16 years old, having written for a number of independent music zines before launching my own site in 2014. I’ve become accustomed to receiving music press releases along the lines of ‘Hey Wrong Name, I hope you had a great weekend in the sun! Thought I would send across the new release from Joe Blogs for you to listen to’. I’m now used to the overly familiar copy & paste niceties that start each email, and know better than to respond in detail about my weekend, or even to feel the need to reply to every email I receive. But when you’re just starting out, it’s easy to be flattered by a PR approach and feel like you have to go out of your way to write a piece on their client.
Once you’ve established yourself, you may find that you receive hundreds of emails each week. This can be stressful, as the volume can make you feel guilty about the need to prioritise and only respond to PR reps whose clients you are able to feature that week. But it’s important to realise that you don’t owe PR reps anything. They are just doing their job—and more than likely they won’t take it as a personal affront if you ignore their email.
Now, the above makes it sound like every PR rep is lazy and a source of annoyance for journalists. That’s definitely not the case—there are some amazing PR reps who evidently really care about the clients they represent and that’s reflected in the quality of their press releases, and the lengths they go to facilitate requests or meet tight deadlines. Additionally, PR reps are usually super grateful when you are able to feature their clients—and you’ll find they are quick at responding to emails, and will usually be able to help you with requests for images to go with your pieces.
A good PR rep will do their research, and send their press releases to the most relevant journalists, with a tailored and thought-out ‘pitch’ (not dissimilar to how journalists pitch their ideas to editors). But more often than not, PR reps try the ‘throw it at everyone and see where it sticks’ approach. This can quickly lead your inbox to get clogged up with irrelevant press releases about subjects you’ve never written about. I’m here to tell you that it’s totally OK to hit reply and say ‘Thanks for thinking of me, but I don’t write about sport so I would appreciate being removed from your distribution list’. Or if you can’t bring yourself to write a reply, then it’s also fine to delete it altogether or mark the sender as a spam contact. Similarly, if you reviewed an album for an outlet one time but don’t generally write music reviews, it’s totally OK to hit ‘unsubscribe’ if you’ve been added to a distribution list against your will!
While most of the time you might find yourself being contacted by a PR rep first, there may be occasions where you proactively want to work with a PR rep and make that initial contact yourself. You can use the #prrequest hashtag on Twitter, or PressPlugs to get expert insights for features you might be writing. You can also sign up to distribution lists manually if you’re interested in receiving updates from labels who represent your favourite artists — but be warned that you’ll probably be inundated, so if you don’t already have a designated ‘journalism’ email account then it’s probably worth setting one up.
The relationship between PR and journalists is fraught and complex, but at the end of the day, both parties are just trying to do their job. A little understanding goes a long way, and while being chased repeatedly can be annoying, it is also absolutely fine to take the necessary steps to safeguard your inbox. Whether you’re a staff writer or a freelance journalist, take the necessary steps to ensure that your inbox is manageable, and you have people who you can turn to when you need experts to speak to.
… in editing
There’s been a tonne of great long-form music content on The Indiependent of late; see Ed Brown’s interview with Frank Turner; Harriet Fisk’s interview with Mancunian rockers, James; Emma Bainbridge’s interview with Scottish songstress, Hannah Slavin and Millie Scott’s interview with Laura Joplin, who spoke about ‘Days and Summers’, a scrapbook commemorating Janis Joplin’s life and career.
… in writing
Articles written: 0
I was recovering from a bug earlier in the week so my priority has been getting better. I’m going to spend Sunday morning brainstorming so that I have a bunch of pitches to send out early next week.
I’ll be the first to admit I’ve found it hard to adjust to my newfound social life—finding the time to pitch and write alongside my day job has been increasingly hard now that it’s sunny and the beer garden beckons!
Articles published: 1
I reviewed the new Spector single ‘Catch You On The Way Back In’ for The Indiependent last week.
… in listening/watching
I’ve been watching Inside No. 9 with my boyfriend and trying (and failing) to guess the ‘twist’ in each episode.
… in reading
I’ve finally bought Anna Codrea-Rado’s You’re The Business: How To Build A Successful Career When You Strike Out Alone which is a great resource for freelancers — if you’re not already subscribed to her newsletter LANCE then be sure to
Someone reshared this New Yorker piece from 1999 by Anthony Bourdain on Twitter, and I adore it: ‘Don’t eat before reading this’. If you’re pining for a holiday then I can wholeheartedly recommend Bourdain’s Parts Unknown, which is on Netflix
I liked Hannah Ewens’ VICE interview with Amelia Horgan: ‘Why work perpetually sucks under capitalism’
I found Kate Julian’s piece ‘America has a drinking problem’ for The Atlantic really interesting
Kya Buller wrote this great piece for Stylist’s new ‘The Curiosity Academy’: ‘6 practical ways to start your own magazine and celebrate your community’
Amelia Tait’s piece ‘The internet said ‘dump him’, so I did’ for Refinery29 was fab (as is everything she writes)
Also for Refinery29, Natasha Preskey’s ‘Can non-monogamy ever be ethical?’ was an interesting read, having previously been in a poly relationship myself
This New York Times modern love column made my heart ache: ‘If I expect it to end, will it hurt less?’ (it’s a gift link so even if you don’t have a subscription you should still be able to read)
On 22 June The Guardian Live is hosting a lunchtime event on ‘The importance of newsroom diversity’. Starts at 1.00pm, and is in partnership with The University of Manchester.
On 12 July at 8.00pm, former The Guardian foreign correspondent Hella Pick will be talking to Emma Graham-Harrison about her extraordinary life and career — get tickets here.
One of the things I’m going to introduce based on your feedback is pitching ops! Each week I’ll embed 3 pitch/shift callouts from editors:
Anywhere (remote): Reach PLC is looking for a community content curator for InYourArea
Birmingham: ITV is on the hunt for a production journalist
Cambridgeshire/Essex/Hertfordshire/Bedfordshire (Remote): Reach PLC is looking for an audience editor - but you’ll need to live in one of these counties
Devon/Cornwall/Dorset (Remote): Reach PLC is looking for a regional content editor — but you need to live in one of these counties
Newcastle (remote): Aspect Publishing is looking for a healthcare reporter