Reviving my role as the ‘PR journalist’ on a lazy Saturday, this time I was in Central Delhi for another edition of “The Journalist’s Interview”. It was time again for me to probe into the love-hate relationship of journalism and PR industry - the two industries that work together, live together but also rant together.
As I wait for my interviewee in the newly built cafeteria of PTI Office, my eyes wander towards the mellow walls covered with distinct stories across the field of art, science, sports, politics along with iconic pictures of APJ Abdul Kalam, Arundhati Roy, Aishwarya Rai and Sushmita Sen. As I contemplate looking at those stories, she introduces me to the new café as soon as she arrives. All these breakthrough stories have been reported by PTI – Press Trust of India that we as PR professionals, know as the largest news wire in India, which has a reach as vast as the Indian Railways. “We are only reporters – not interpreters. We do not add colour to news – which is why we are different from newspapers,” she says.
Over a cup of coffee, we both discuss business and technology journalism, digitization at PTI, phenomena of fake news and above all her encounters with the PR industry over the last 10 years. Before going any further, I would first introduce you to my interviewee – Stuti Roy, expert of IT domain at PTI, with whom most of us servicing IT and telecom clients would have interacted.
PR industry needs better trainers
On both sides of the profession, it is important to train the newbies coming to work. Since PR pros act as a layer between media and the client, it is vital for them to understand the functioning of industry and communication basics of working with media. Stuti tells us, “I have heard PR people ragging newcomers by telling them to call a journalist just to have fun. So at times, when a person calls me for a random thing, I might not take his call the next time when he is actually calling me for something important.” Most of the PR pros work on a diverse client portfolio varying from lifestyle to tech to real estate but very few of them really know the basics of these industries.
“It’s a mix and match of various things that create a love-hate relationship. At times, a person might be having a bad day at work that results in bashing or even a PR person might be having a bad day due to which a message B goes out instead of message A”, says Stuti. She highlights the importance of a journalist’s schedule and goes on to say, “the least bit is to keep a track of days when listed companies are announcing their quarter results – all this is publicly available information and these are busy days for business journalists.”
Moreover, one should never mix pleasure with business. To pitch a story, one doesn’t need to be friends on Facebook; Twitter and LinkedIn are still professional spaces to make connections. She goes on by saying that “I am pretty old school in that way and if I am making friends with someone, I make friends for life.” Therefore, talking about Facebook friend request and story pitch on the same call will actually get the entire industry a bad name.
It is a PTI story – not a flash!
Commenting upon the terminologies that are used in the industry, Stuti tells us, “I have heard people say if the story is flashed. I am sorry – the term flash is when a person dies. Another important thing is that people have to stop taking us as Press release Trust of India. They think we only do press releases – no, we do stories.” She also makes an important point on the relevance of these stories, “If your father and mother do not understand the story then somewhere it is not relevant. When you pitch a client, keep a very important person in mind. My boss has mentioned this that when you write a story, keep your mother in law your mind.” This is because everybody hates their mother in law but if you can convince her, you are there!
She goes on to explain the two basic tenets of a PTI Story - speed but accuracy. There can be a delay in sending out the story but it needs to be accurate. Essentially the role of a correspondent finishes when the story is filed but they are responsible for the edits made by the desk and what finally goes on the wire. Thereafter, subscribers (newspaper, website, channel) pick up the story by giving accreditation to PTI. In case of a mistake, the story is updated and sent to the customer but it is the publication’s prerogative whether to accept the new copy or not.
Digitization of PTI – a far-fetched thought
PTI works on VSAT model – a satellite based model where a customer/ subscriber gets access to PTI stories. “Since we are B2B and not B2C, we cannot put everything online because otherwise as a subscriber, you would feel cheated for paying me. Therefore, we cannot compete with news websites”, she says. There has been a renewed push on Twitter where news alerts are posted yet the challenge remains, not everything can be shared on social media.
Combating fake news
The growing phenomena of fake news which the world is fighting against has impacted PTI too. Sources of stories cannot be trusted and reporters have become more vigilant. “We, therefore, cross check with multiple sources”, says Stuti, “I often tell people that if you read something stupid probably it’s not good to be true.”
Message to the industry
She sums this up like this – “Read more, prepare more. Don’t befriend me for the heck of a story – that won’t work. Don’t feel your job is not important. Think of it is as a huge machinery and you are important in the larger scheme of things.”
Pratishtha Kaura, is associate manager, Text100