That sentence had me reading and re-reading it in complete disbelief!

First, some background.

Ed Yong, (an award-winning British science writer. His work has appeared in New Scientist, the Times, WIRED, the Guardian, Nature, the Daily Telegraph, the Economist) also has a blog on Discover Magazine (called Not Exactly Rocket Science) and a personal posterous blog. He recently got an embargoed press release from the University of Manchester. Like most journalists, he wanted more information and requested for the same, from University of Manchesterâ??s Press Officer, Aeron Haworth.

His exact question was, “Do you have contact details for LEAD AUTHOR?“. The response he got was,

“I think you have all you need for a blog.”

Wow! I haven’t heard that one before!

Ed persisted with a, “Interesting. Do you often tell journalists when you think they’ve had enough material for their reporting?

And got 2 responses from Aeron.

“No, but I sometimes have to prioritise requests, particularly where academics are reluctant participants and I have already asked LEAD AUTHOR to do a number of interviews. If you want to email any specific questions, I’m happy to pass them on.”

and,

“For information, I was a journalist for 15 years, which included being a newspaper editor and a magazine publisher. I am therefore suitably qualified to advise journalists. Your blog articles are about half the length of my press release and certainly a lot shorter than the JOURNAL paper, hence why I wondered why you needed yet more information. Still, I’m willing to forward any specific questions you might have as per my previous email but please don’t try to patronise me. I’m a bit too long in the tooth.”

To be fair, Ed did not out Aeron in his blog post. That was done by Ivan Oransky, in his Embargo Watch blog.

I’m really not sure if you can call Ed just a blogger. Yes, his column in Discover Magazine is called a ‘blog’, but he seems like a far more accomplished science writer, if you go through his profile. In any case, going back to one of my earlier pieces on this topic, I see little sense in trying to prioritize between a journalist and a blogger, these days.

Aeron, in one of his older interviews, makes a fine case prioritizing between a tabloid and a BBC. He says,

Now the academic got quite a lot of publicity for that last year but she is quite reluctant to speak to The Sun simply because of the way The Sun reports things. Sheâ??s not sure or confident that theyâ??ll report the whole thing for example saying that going out in the midday sun and frying is good. So we discuss that with the academic and with the journalist to see exactly how simplified she is going to make it and how to get the balanced story across.

Sensible take. But in case of Ed Yong’s query, it seems like he did not have adequate information to share – as PR professionals, we have all been in that boat where we have only a limited set of information at our disposal and are forced to talk to journalists who have a lot more questions than we can answer. In many cases, I have been honest enough with the journalist to share that update and also offer to get more information from clients, if feasible. Most journalists understood that point of view. Aeron offers that too, but only after assuming that the information already shared is enough for Ed to write something on it. Shouldn’t that ideally be Ed’s prerogative?

But, Aeron seems to be going on the warpath in Ivan’s blog. Some of his comments include,

“I have spent the past three days supplying information to journalists across the world about this story. It is only Mr Yong that appears to have taken issue. If he wasnâ??t so patronising towards PIOs then perhaps he would have received more cooperation. Itâ??s also disappointing that the writer of this blog thought to attack someone without bothering to contact them for a response. Good journalism? No, just silly mischievousness. No self-respecting journalist would write an article attacking an individual without giving them the right to reply. And they would write the finished article in a way that left it to the reader to make up their own mind.”

“I will be letting every UK press officer know about his (Ed’s) antics and he is unlikely to get cooperation from this side of the Atlantic in future.”

“Ed deserved what he got. A jumped-up arrogant journalist wannabe. I stand my ground.”

“Itâ??s not my fault Iâ??m dealing with non-journalists.”

And, to a comment, “Obviously you donâ??t consider social media falls within the public relations domain, Aeron. Which, you know, was true before social media existed“, he responds,

“Unfortunately, it doesnâ??t fall within professional journalistic criteria and so allows idiots to post what they like. If you published that in a UK newspaper Iâ??d be suing the ass (American) off you. Well I would if I didnâ??t have a sense of humour (humor US) and could be arsed.”

!

This is a fascinating set of retorts! Even if there are other people from the University trying to explain that this is not the stand of the University of Manchester about interactions with social media participants (see this sensible comment by Austin Elliot), Aeron’s all-pervasive discussion in Ivan’s blog comments somehow make it out to be. Even if they are his personal opinions, I don’t understand a few things.

1. His disdain towards bloggers (social media content creators, in a broader sense). He seems to be of the opinion that such people are ‘non-journalists’, unfair (without giving both parties a chance to explain their stand) and consists of ‘idiots who post what they like’. I’m sure he has a specific perspective from a niche area like scientific research and how they are communicated to the press. Things may be vastly different in the profit-seeking FMCG’ish and B2B’ish world we are more familiar with. The former would be a lot more content-based communication while the latter could perhaps be a lot more about promoting brands and brand ambassadors. Even then, his attitude towards social media content creators sounds disturbing – I’d perhaps not categorize Ed as a blogger at all, in the first place, but at a larger level, look at the blogger’s (Ed, here) past body of work before berating him for being just a blogger. And Ed’s body of work seems mighty impressive and as mainstream media’ish as it could get!

2. If one has to assume that real journalists have a larger journalistic sense of responsibility and follow journalistic ethics, Aeron’s assumption is that bloggers do not follow anything like that and write ‘what they like’. Taking that in face value, doesn’t it become imperative on a press officer to treat such people more carefully? With a journalist, you could at least reason with good content and explanation, but if Aeron’s opinion of bloggers is that they have a complete free hand in saying whatever they wish, he should perhaps treat them a lot more sensibly, so as to get his University’s point of view clearly and not let them post ‘what they like’. That could only come from knowing the blogger and his body of work well and customizing the communication appropriately.

3. I really do not think Ed’s communication with Aeron was ‘arrogant’ in any way. He asked a logically polite question when faced with that epic response (I think you have all you need for a blog), and did not flare up, as anyone else would have. May be Aeron was having a bad day, but that doesn’t mean he can treat Ed the way he did. Seems like a completely unnecessary overreaction.

4. As a digital PR professional, I tell clients to prioritize mainstream media too. Over ‘bloggers’. But that is unique to India, I would say, where mainstream media still rules. If we include bloggers in a press event, it may annoy professional journalists and our recommendation to clients is usually to do 2 sessions – one for mainstream media participants and another for social media content creators. That way, both groups are given their due respect in separate sessions. But again, much like how advertising agencies are advising clients to break new campaigns first on social media and then on mainstream media, we do suggest sharing some new piece of information with social media participants too – it is done after gauging the kind of new in hand and evaluating the best way to maximize its reach. Both groups deserve respect for the kind of reach they have built and it is pointless to evaluate one over the other in most cases, but real world compulsions force us to suggest ways to avoid the client being a scape goat of that perceived differentiation.

Pic courtesy Randolph Lu via Flickr.

Comments

comments

6 thoughts on “Would you tell a blogger, “I think you have all you need for a blog”?

  1. Incredible unprofessionalism on the PIO’s part. His poor judgment should get him sacked, because with attitudes like that he cannot effectively represent his university employer.

    I have maintained for years that bloggers cannot, as a class, be considered journalists. Some journalists may be bloggers, but not all bloggers are journalists. Yet someone who blogs for a mainstream publication, as Ed Young does for Discover Magazine, can easily be considered a journalist. (Especially if he’s paid to blog by a media corporation.)

    More to the point, why wouldn’t the PIO want to maximize any blog post by Ed Yong with as much supporting detail as possible? If a writer with Mr. Yong’s pedigree wants to do a bigger piece, why on earth would any PR rep refuse him? It makes no sense.

    A PIO’s job includes putting his interview subjects in touch with people who are in a position to publicize something the PIO presumably wants disseminated as widely as possible.

    I could understand the PIO wanting to be in control of the interview, but if Mr. Yong did not already have a reputation for getting facts wrong or slamming academics, then I don’t understand the PIO’s antipathy here. He may have experience with bloggers who publish work not to his liking, but if Mr. Yong has never covered the university before, then the PIO’s response is as baffling as it is insulting.

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