Tom Foremski: “journalist’s spin”

As I work on my presentation for Friday’s Delivering the New PR conference I’m listening to the For Immediate Release interview with Tom Foremski of SiliconValleyWatcher. It’s a very good interview.

They are discussing Tom’s post about Die Press Release! Die! Die! Die!. The quote that made me stop was “you’re never going to use the spin from the press release. The spin comes from the journalist, it comes from me, I put in my spin in the first couple of paragraphs of the story…”

A refreshing admission that it isn’t just about providing a balanced, factual account but that news stories are spun by journalists.

But you’d be very wrong to put too much faith in what Tom says. You see he is talking from his perspective. And as an ex-Financial Times journalist and he writes about technology and business in Silicon Valley. It’s a pretty rarefied perspective. In the real world that most journalists and PR people work then things are a bit different. I said as much at the time and so did Bitemarks who said that Tom was on the “proverbial bleeding edge. Until the rest of the world, and the rest of the sol-called mainstream media catch-up, things aren’t likely to change anytime soon”.

In the rest of the world news releases still work. Hundreds of professional, business and trade journals, consumer magazines and regional newspapers absolutely depend on news releases. Note NEWS releases, not press releases. And sometimes they re-write it beyond recognition (and even introduce mistakes that weren’t in the original release) but often they just use it. Either all of it or an edited version. It it’s a well-written release, in the style of the publication you are targeting, then the journalist should be able to edit simply by deleting the paragraphs at the end.

Secondly “spin” isn’t the great evil that it is made out to be. It’s a bit like the windows on Playschool when I was a child . You as a PR want to encourage people to look through one window, your competitors want them to look through another, and journalists might want yet another. What’s in the room remains the same but you can get different views of it.

Spin is too often used to mean lies. Lies are wrong. Spin isn’t.

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About Stuart Bruce

International communications consultant and PR trainer specialising in online public affairs, digital corporate communications, online PR and social media; frequent national media commentator and conference speaker.
  • http://www.nevillehobson.com/ Neville Hobson

    A really good commentary, Stuart. Glad you found the interview interesting.

    I agree with you – Tom is out there at the journalistic leading edge in many ways. Some of his posts and comments are quite provactive to many in the PR profession. We need journalistics like Tom to stimulate debate. And in spite of what some have said, he is not an enemy of PR. Far from it.

    It's all about symbiosis :)

  • http://indiapr.blogspot.com hobbit

    Hi Stuart,
    Sometmes you also lead the journalist to a spin on how you want the story to be. Just that you let the journalist take the credit for the spin, while you secretly admire yourself for your craftiness.

  • Tina Lang-Stuart

    Ohhh noooo (yes Stuart, this is a big sigh) I was quite refreshed by Tom Foremski's press release funeral. The press releases I wrote, read, edited, re-wrote, re-read, re-edited over the course of my career made me loath the traditional press release. And what's a "news release" versus a "press release"? Well-written versus badly written? The distinction we should make is between the news/press release and the "social media" release. To deliver some background information to the journalists via embedded links, attached photographs or video segements and related coverage and tags allows a journalist to put a spin on things. PR can provide the full picture – by being a new aggregators – but we should give the journalists the courtesy and freedom to use whatever information they find most valuable and then add their own perspective.

  • http://blogsurvey.backbonemedia.com John Cass

    Tina, I think Stuart is making the point about what's the reality of the marketplace rather than what's the best option. I think we'd have to conduct a study on how often the news release is the only source of material used, when other sources were provided by a PR team to discover the numbers. Really its more an issue of discussing what jounrnalists do than PR people.

  • Tina Lang-Stuart

    Actually John, I think we should just give the social media press release a try. Agreed, not every client will be open but some might be. And then we ask the journalists whether they derive any (additional) value from it. And yes, we'll also ask them about what other materials they use as a source of information.

  • http://www.brucemarshallassociates.com Stuart Bruce, BMA PR

    Tina, the problem isn't with the clients who would embrace the idea if we advised them to – after all they pay us to add value to their business using our communication skills.

    I'm dealing with your other comment in another post.

  • http://blogsurvey.backbonemedia.com John Cass

    Tina, again I don't disagree, but its what journalists will use. It seems to me, I might be wrong here, but the PR community appears to be further ahead in this space than journalists.

    I think Tom talked about this in the interview.