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Posted on 12.01.2011

Blacklisting a reporter: Is it ever ok?

The old adage “never pick a fight with someone who buys their ink by the barrel” remains sage advice for anyone working with the media. With the proliferation of online news channels, blogs and social media, this may be more true today than ever before. Today’s commentators aren’t necessarily bound to a journalistic code of ethics and they certainly don’t need ink to write their stories. All the more reason to treat the media – including bloggers and so-called citizen journalists – with equal respect and professional courtesy. But what about those times you don’t get a fair shake? Maybe you’ve tried working with a reporter only to find your company unfairly portrayed time and again. What do you do when efforts to reach out through one-on-one meetings and carefully crafted responses do nothing to stem the tide of unflattering – even unfair – coverage? For some, the answer is to sever all ties with the reporter. Though it may sound tempting in the heat of battle, it’s an approach that will undoubtedly backfire. Ignoring calls and emails may bring a twinge of satisfaction, however it goes against the very principles of effective public relations. Not to mention it’s, well, awfully seventh grade… That’s why I couldn’t help but be drawn to coverage surrounding the Public Relations Society of America's (PRSA) highly publicized flap with veteran journalist and industry watchdog Jack O’Dwyer. After a long-simmering feud finally boiled over in 2010, O’Dwyer’s criticism of the organization grew stronger and more frequent – leading PRSA to ban him from their October General Assembly meeting. The move drew sharp criticism from many, including the National Press Club, which issued a statement urging the organization to reconsider. PRSA went on the offensive, defending its decision not to tolerate unethical or disruptive behavior from any media representative and actively addressing the issue on industry websites and blogs. No doubt, there’s way more to this story than we know. However, it shines a light on what is becoming an all-too-common practice in my opinion. While there’s no excuse for disruptive, unprofessional or unethical behavior on the part of the media, today’s increasingly transparent media cycle leaves little room for the “take-my-ball-and-go-home” attitude often adopted by beleaguered companies and CEOs. We expect the media to be fair and balanced. When a reporter’s coverage falls short of that standard – real or perceived – there are better ways to address the situation than crossing them off the list. Take the high road. Or better yet, take out an ad… What do you think? Is it ever ok to ignore a critical reporter?

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