View Point

Saturday, December 6, 1997

PR people,
media want same thing

By Craig Miyamoto

I read Diane Chang's Nov. 24 column, "When a flack turns journalist, or vice versa," with interest and, since I sit on the national Public Relations Society of America board, a number of members have also called my attention to it.

Her column has merit in its observance that journalism plays an important role, and that a former journalist who enters public relations only to return to journalism, like Elisa Yadao, has many difficulties ahead.

Will KHNL be helped or hindered by Yadao's former advocacy on behalf of Bishop Estate? Yadao and the station will have to come to terms with this, but eventually only the public can answer the question.

However, in characterizing her, the same old bromides are dredged up. News people continue to use the pejorative term "flacks" when talking about PR practitioners.

Well, OK, I guess we sometimes deserve it. But you know, I don't ever recall news people calling themselves "hacks" in the same headline as "flacks." This doesn't strike me as objective.

In general, the news media carries an outdated image of PR practitioners. Usually, their only contact with us comes when we approach them with an idea for a story, or they receive a news release in the mail, or when we meet on "flack-hack" panels that lament the so-called "love-hate" relationship between the news media and PR profession.

The fact is that public relations and journalism are after the same thing. We both want to work toward the public good and to make life better for those who live in our society: in our case, Hawaii.

The only difference is that journalists do it from the outside, chipping away at the stone walls that organizations create because they don't trust the media.

Meanwhile, PR professionals do it from the inside, counseling management on the "right thing to do," urging candor and honesty, advocating the adoption of socially responsible policies, getting employees involved in the community, and basically telling our bosses that they'd better change if they plan to be around in 25-50 years.

And if PR practitioners aren't completely forthcoming or timely in their answers to journalists' inquiries, then shame on us, even if we are bound from revealing everything we know.

PR professionals have a huge problem. It's called the "advocate trilemma:"

1) We need to know everything about our company or organization if we are to give counsel.

2) We need to keep certain things confidential for business, legal or competitive reasons.

3) Because of our social responsibility, we need to tell everything we know.

But if we aren't forthcoming or timely because of the crude, cynical and inaccurate reporting we've seen in the past, then shame on journalists. They don't like being treated unfairly, and neither do PR practitioners.

Above all, we are all human beings. For journalists, the answer to everything is either black or white; there can be no gray areas.

In reality, there is very little that is either black or white.

As for the matter of pay, let me set this matter straight once and for all. Most PR practitioners are not well-paid. The higher-paid professionals are those who have achieved "counselor" status, and whose advice (business, social responsibility, communication strategy) is highly valued.

In this respect, the senior practitioner is no different than any other corporate officer, including a senior editor or publisher.

The fact is that we live in a free-market society, and those who are valued and whose talents are in short supply make more money than the rest of us.

PR practitioners should have a difficult time re-entering journalism, no doubt about it. Having worked both sides of the fence, I know that I cannot be an objective reporter again. I don't want to be. I can do a better job trying to change things from the inside. And whether the news media like it or not, we do a pretty good job as partners for a better society.

Craig Miyamoto is a 25-year veteran
of the public relations industry.

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