Today's story was about the Golden Gate Bridge District's plan to expand the ferry terminal in Sausalito. Tons of tourists like to bike across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco to Sausalito and then take the ferry back to the city. So many are doing this now, the people who live in Sausalito feel overrun. They don't want more bikes so they don't want a new, bigger ferry terminal that would make it easier for more bikes to come to the town.
Call number one - to the District spokesperson to get the background.
There's a reason why when journalists leave the business and go into public relations, they call it "going over to the dark side." Public information officers (PIOs) are paid to tell the story the people who pay them want told. Journalists should always keep that in mind when relying upon PIOs for information. In fact, one of the common criticisms of MMJs is they're so stressed for time, they rely on public relations too much and often don't get the full story.
Still, this does not mean journalists should avoid public relations folks as they execute their stories. The really good ones can make a reporter's day go more smoothly and efficiently. That was the case today, when I ran into a reporter I'd worked with 15 years ago, who had just recently "gone over to the dark side."
When I asked for an interview, she volunteered to meet me at the ferry terminal itself, saving a ton of time: shoot the video for the story and get the interview in the same place. She came prepared to talk about the controversy and not pretend it didn't exist. Sure, she took and told the side of the District, which is her job, but which I also needed for the story. Soon after the intervew, as she promised, she sent me information on how to find graphics and more background information on the story.
In the end, my day was made a lot easier by someone who knew the story and who knew what she was doing.
- Don't ever forget journalism and public relations are not the same thing. Journalists work for the public, PR folks work for their bosses.
- Just because #1 is true doesn't mean journalists can't rely, in part, upon public relations professionals to get the story done. PIOs are often in the know and can provide timely information that helps make deadline. A good reporter will cultivate relationships with PR folks who are reliable.