This a looong introspective on the public relations/communications/journalism industry so if you’re looking for something tasty, feel free to skip this one and read the recipe archives!
I went to a SCPRSA meeting last week titled “How to Pitch a Blogger” with five panelists that consisted of Will Folks of FITS News, Logan Smith of Palmetto Public Record, Anne Postic of The Shop Tart, Teowonna Clifton of That Teowonna, and Micheal Bailey of The Minority Eye. The conversation, moderated by USC J-school Dean Charles Bierbauer, took an interesting and still quite relevant turn for the panelists and audience alike. We spent a lot of time going over the difference between a blogger and a reporter/journalist and the responsibilities implied and assumed by both camps, in addition to reader’s assumptions about personal opinions in blog writing. Most everyone agreed that a blogger’s writing probably does have personal opinions, especially if it’s implicitly stated like on FITSnews that it is “unfair and imbalanced,” and on Anne’s FAQs where she states that she will not even discuss a product, service or store/restaurant if she doesn’t like it (and also doesn’t guarantee coverage for freebies or advertisers).
Folks and Bailey touted themselves as “advocates” or “activists” opening saying that they were indeed pushing their agenda and their philosophy on their respective sites, writing about breaking news and current events as they see it pertaining to themselves and the citizens of the state of South Carolina and beyond, which is all well within the scope of what a blogger is expected, allowed, and frankly, supposed to do. As Anne pointed out, it’s up to the reader to discern and interpret the information that they are reading. People learn to go to the news sources that they like the best and discredit the ones they don’t like, as Bailey said, and he can’t be more true. Ask anyone what they think about Fox News and you’ll likely get a very passionate reaction either for or against the (absolutely ridiculous and full of garbage (see?!)) network.
For the most part people in the room agreed that journalists are expected to professionally put aside their biases and report news objectively, though those things can creep in through how the writer angles the story or the sources that they choose to obtain facts and quotes from. However, I was even thinking that writer’s biases can show up not only through the throw of the story but by WHAT they choose to write about. Drawing from my (currently small-ish) pool of reporting experience for the Free Times, I just the other week threw the story to be Pro-Eating Local Produce without outright saying so. Just writing about it introduced my bias to vegetables since I could have also written an article about a fish market. I slanted becoming a member of a CSA as a good thing, getting quotes from two wonderful CSAs, including one that I personally pay for right out of my pocket and will tell anyone who will listen about. Admittedly, not many people are going to be Anti-Eating Local Produce (except this moron who commented on the online version of the article) and while the topic itself is deep with plenty of room for discussion in the area of sustainability, prices, and the state of agriculture today, this particular article was meant to be a light food & drink piece telling the reader about CSA options in the area.
As someone who had multiple roles that cross the blogger/reporter line, I also have the extra fun of taking on roles that have me, for lack of a better term, acting as the public relations person for my day job and on the side in a more limited role for my yoga studio. That’s right, every day I am a blogger, a reporter, and a PR person, having to seamlessly switch roles, change voices, and remember my function in each one. Let’s start with the obvious, my role as a blogger.
I started this blog two years ago to amuse myself and also to function as a living portfolio so that I could pick up some freelance jobs again, for my own amusement. I began seeking out opportunities by guest blogging a bit, asking companies for products to review and give away, and became a little bit “known” as someone who knows answers to questions like, “Is there a co-op in town?” or “Where should I go for lunch in Lexington?” Every word on this blog is absolutely dripping with my opinion, and as a reader you come here for that. You probably want to know what The April Blake is cooking, what restaurants she’s going to, or what she’s Instagrammed lately. And that’s great. I go to certain blogs too to get certain opinions and information because I’ve read enough of the blogger’s stuff to know that I like their style, their opinions match mine (She hate mushrooms too? BFFs!!!) or that they’ll turn me on to some awesome new thing that I’ll totally want to buy. I absolutely stand behind every word written here unless there’s some factual error, in which case I’ll change it and let you know about my errors. But my opinion won’t be wrong because it’s mine and I like it the way it is.
Like I mentioned, I have a monthly Food & Drink related column for the Free Times, and I also occasionally freelance for the Columbia Metropolitan Magazine, covering topics that I pitch to them or assignments that they give to me. For these publications in some cases I inject my bias by proposing topics because I would only pitch ones that interest me, but as far as the content of it, I owe it to the readers, the editors, the subjects of the article, and myself to be thorough and factual in my reporting. Also, my words get printed and distributed to thousands of people so there’s more of a chance of humiliation if it’s wrong, so I prefer to be right, right, right in these cases for my own credibility, with is paramount. In high school I was on the school paper all four years and became the editor senior year. I planned on majoring in print journalism at USC, but after one Writing for the News class I ran to change my major to broadcast because I couldn’t imagine writing the same boring upside-down triangle stories day in and day out, beating the same dead horses because that’s what sold subscriptions/got clicks.
But once my self consciousness crept in during my first time having my video story projected on the wall, with my awkward self and weird-to-me sounding voice booming in the tiny classroom, I hightailed it out of broadcast journalism and tossed a coin to become a public relations major. Unlike the last two intro classes, the basic PR class captivated me and made me want more, leading me to finally receive my degree in it a year and a half later. With the major changing and lack of ability to take on an unpaid internship (oh hai two or three jobs in addition to full time school) I wasn’t (and still am not really) able to get a real PR job which led me down a hole of data entry and admin assistant jobs until last year. I’m still an admin assistant, but the role is evolving more due to my skills and background into a communications/PR one, which I am adoring. Though I’ll likely never have the “real” agency PR experience that most people assume they’ll get when they are a recent PR grad, I still think that what I do daily counts just as much. I have different “campaigns” that I do assorted publicity for in the form of email marketing, designing and distributing flyers to key contacts and highly visible areas, using Facebook to reach folks, writing and sending out information about our office and what we do to the larger communications department and press, writing and editing press releases and other materials, and putting my ear to the ground to make sure that other offices that tell large groups of visitors about what we do have the correct information. I also read and subscribe to emails from other departments to see where they are including information from us, getting word about what we do to their larger and more targeted audience. Tired yet? I also do the regular admin stuff too but that doesn’t matter here. And of course, as the admin/communications person, I rely a LOT on my coworkers who are the experts in the subject matter to answer my questions and make sure I have the facts right because while I know more than I did when I started about our subject matter, I doubt I’ll ever have as much deep knowledge about it as they do. In a way, it’s like I’m being the reporter, interviewing them for their expertise on the matter, which is where PR people should absolutely have a basic knowledge of reporting and interviewing.
And on top of those things, I am also the social media voice for my yoga studio, a partnership that I approached the owner of the studio about a year ago when it was just a few months old and I noticed their Facebook page wasn’t being updated too regularly and I wanted to help for the experience. I would be something I could point to as tangible proof that I was working in social media and because I really wanted the studio to succeed because it’s extremely convenient to my home and work, so I selfishly didn’t want them to go anywhere or else I wouldn’t reliably go to yoga and improve my practice/keep sane/keep limber. From doing this, I have learned how much time and maintenance goes into keeping a SM presence alive and running for a company, and I’m not even as deep into it with this one as I could be due to time restraints. I definitely have learned that with a full time job I should not be sniffing out any other clients for social media management, one is plenty though it is enjoyable and if I could do it full time for multiple clients, that I’d probably really enjoy it and feed off of the energy from connecting people and businesses day to day.
So, to wrap up this monstrosity my thoughts on the meeting and what it means to me to be a blogger and a reporter and a public relations practitioner together (and separately if the knowledge that I have from all three roles can even be separated out) with college education and at least a little hands on experience in all of these fields. I never really planned for my education or experience to lead me down this path but the combination of it all makes me aware and empathetic to the joys and stressors that people in each profession endure. I plan to use the relatability factor in my favor doing each of my different roles to further reach my own career goals, whatever they may end up being thanks to such a varied pool of experiences to choose from.
What do you think about the differences and blurred lines between bloggers and reporters, and even PR people?