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An Open Letter to the Gray Lady, PR Hater
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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Dear Madame,

I sincerely hope you have on your readers and have guzzled down your morning Boost because I must take umbrage with you, woman.

You see, earlier this month, you created quite the kerfuffle when you allowed one of your public editors to lambast a portent reporter and friend to the flack, David Pogue. Now, I don't know if you rock the cougar every time Pogue is pontificating his latest excerpt on technological doodads, but I'm sure he boils your Ovaltine.

And why not? He's intelligent. He's kind. He's an above-average dresser. However, there's that one thing that gets in your craw: he likes PR professionals.

He understands that getting a lead from "one of them," as you have routinely snarled over a stirring game of Cribbage, is likely and welcomed. As he is familiar with the flack, he decided to push the proverbial envelope and get paid for his PR presuppositions. This was an understandable no-no. You don't want his journalistic integrity questioned in any way, right? You don't want him to forget who butters his bread? And let's admit it. You want him to stay loyal to his 160-year-old Sugar Mama.

So, the aforementioned public editor opined this:

The “Pitch Me” presentation might strike some as pretty harmless. But there is a reason why The Times ethics policy proscribes it. Times readers deserve to be assured that journalists don’t get too cozy with the P.R. professionals who strive to influence coverage. A virtual army of publicists, media specialists and others stands ready every day to infiltrate the news with stories that help their employers.

Here's my point of contention: I dig you. I really do. You're old, sure; however, I am feeling that experience... that cagey chutzpah of yours. I, like many public relations professionals across this great land of ours, flutter with adulation when you talk about my clients. Through the years, I have discovered the primary way to get one of your hirelings to even think about said clients is to befriend, bemoan, and be kind.

Can't we come to a compromise? I promise to upkeep your hallowed ethics by not buying those who worship at your printing press. In doing so, I would like you to promise to let me call them...and let them answer honestly if I have a good idea that relates to a story of note.

I believe that is a good plan since you have been putting some of your reporters out to pasture anyway. The ones you have left should welcome good ideas. I realize many of the pitches that fill their inbox make as much sense as people seeking the advice of anyone with the surname "Kardashian," but certainly, they're not all THAT bad, right?

And since you don't have more of them, trust some diligent PR folk like us.

I get it. You don't have the drive to keep all those wily reporters footloose and fancy free like you used to do, so you need less of them around. They get on your nerves, and some of them just don't understand you anymore. But I do, and I still want to be friends.

Can I still call you? Do you mind if I still write? And if I have an idea that may or may not involve one of my clients, may I whisper that in your ear? You know how that scent of Ben-Gay, formaldehyde, and mothballs drive me wild. You minx.

I appreciate your attention to this matter, as well as asking your public editor to come down from that oh-so-high horse of his. Just because a story you are telling is initially sparked by a PR professional doesn't mean BOOM goes the dynamite.
It is possible that a meandering email comes from someone who did not attend the Ivy League School of Choice Journalism might still have a thought-provoking idea for a trend story, a human-interest angle, or worse yet, a front-page story.

Would you reconsider giving us a chance?

To put it another way, I leave you with the words of an ancient philosopher — a person whose words echo through the annals of history. He said, "Can't we all just get along?"

I believe we can. Yes, we can. (Don't quote me on that one.)

Your Not-So-Secret Admirer


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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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