You can’t buy a journalist!

Everybody likes good media! As long as journalists do positive stories about companies, the latter are fine with it. But the moment there is even a whiff of an unpleasant story, a common knee-jerk reaction that one comes across is: “Get that story killed.” Or “just buy that journo off.”

During my 40 years in media and PR, I have seen quite a few of top managements refusing to comment or cooperate with relevant information, when they perceive that the media is probing into something negative about their companies. This has put the PR professionals or consultants in a tough situation. If the PR man happens to be an ex-journalist, his predicament is still worse.

Journalists do admit in private that there could be some black sheep among them. But you cannot paint the entire profession with the same brush. In fact, attempts to buy off journalists have backfired so badly that some companies had to literally pay the price for their follies.

Any journalist worth his salt starts the profession with the pre-conceived belief that he is entering a noble profession that commands respect and awe. And he knows that his credibility would be at stake if he submits to pressures or benefits.

In this era of communication, a bad word spreads faster that a good one and that applies to journalists as well. Fellow journalists and PR professionals can easily make out who is a racketeer – a term used for media persons taking money or favours for publishing positive stories or stopping negatives. With the same yardstick, one could also identify blackmailers.

Paying off a blackmailer for killing stories could be counterproductive in the long run. Let me give an analogy of a builder who used goondas to his advantage. But soon, the same goonda grew too large for his boots. The builder faced death threats the goon was eliminated in an encounter.

The moral of the story is: Be good, do good and be seen as doing good.

At the risk of sounding like a preacher, let me say that journalists are increasingly becoming transparent and responsible with their work. Gone are the days when one could ‘manage’ the media. Today, journalists resist pressures from even space selling departments to favour their advertisers.

I know of a promoter of a leading English daily telling his business head not to mess around with the editorial department, come what may! Another proprietor told his senior journalists not to entertain anyone who uses the ‘Sethji’s reference’ to get a story done.

Nothing can stop a story from getting into print unless it is blatantly wrong and/or based on hearsay and not facts. Journalists do listen if one counters them with facts because no one wants to face legal complications that could jeopardize one’s career.

Finally, for those who continue to harbor the thought that they can buy journalists off, I would say that they are living in a fool’s paradise or playing with fire.

B N Kumar, veteran media professional and currently the executive director of Concept PR and national president of Public Relations Council of India

If you enjoyed this article, you can subscribe for free to our weekly event and subscriber alerts.