Back in the day, journalism was different. It was all about walking your patch, meeting real people and yes, having a boozy lunch during which you’d get three exclusives.
Times have changed, of course. And there are countless other writers who can tell you about the modern day mechanics of newsrooms, based on “churnalism” – the cutting and pasting of press releases without much investigation going on. But I would politely suggest that at least part of this culture has been nurtured by those on the other side of the fence. Well, some at least.
Take Government press offices. Editorial guidelines and journalistic ethics dictate that every story should seek to be balanced. And rightly so. Yet, how often do we hear – especially on local radio – the presenter saying that nobody was available for an interview, so here’s a bland statement?
So who’s to blame?
You could argue that journalists should be more tenacious in persuading a particular guest to participate. Only recently I recall being told that absolutely nobody from an enormous Whitehall department would be available to appear on the show – despite that very department issuing a great press release with an even better story to tell. So it’s not for want of trying.
Then there are the Government press officers who – as soon as you introduce yourself – automatically launch into a well meaning conversation which basically means “I can’t be arsed with you lot. It’s only local radio after all. I’ll pretend to spend a few hours caring about your enquiry, but I’ve really got the standard reply/statement in my email file and I’ll send it to you minutes after I’ve left the office.”
Not all are quite as bad. But if you’re even remotely connected with the kind of smug, dismissive, lazy idiots described above, remind them of this.
7.1 million listeners tune into BBC Local Radio each week. That’s more than Five Live, and not all that far behind Radio 4. Perceived grandeur isn’t always matched by exposure to or connection with your key audience.
Whatever the political colour of your administration, the audience – and the journalists – will ultimately respect you more for coming on air.
Sure, I’m in danger of preaching to the converted here. But I’m often tempted to use this as a standard “response” to those who frequently refuse to be interviewed.
“We asked the Department of Big Stuff to respond. They couldn’t be bothered to give us anything other than what they told us last time. It was bland then, and it’s still bland now. Go on their website if you’re really interested.”