The multinationals, by and large, and the government departments always, always put off our reporters at TechEye by saying they’ll get back to us. Few of them do.
My feeling is that churnalism is so all-pervasive these days that they’re surprised that a reporter is even asking questions, and even more surprised that she or he has got through the voice mail system and managed to actually get through to a press officer.
The government departments are always the worst. They’re so used to the Malcolm Tucker school of PR that they’ve subscribed full time to the dictum which makes great mushrooms: “Feed them shit and keep them in the dark.”
As always, it is best for an investigative journalist to find other routes to a story rather than do the honourable thing and actually expect a press officer to do a bit of work.
That works for multinationals that have products. You can always phone the sales lines and ask questions like: “I want to buy a Toyota whatever it is but I’ve heard the model I want will be delayed for three months because of the earthquake in China or whatever.” The sales person will always try and sell you something, and in so doing, spill the beans and give you the answer you need to write your story.
And nine times out of 10, after you’ve run the story, you’ll have some suddenly frightened press officer being leaned on by the Capo di Capuccino saying: “Get this story changed, it’s causing waves!” The worst types get the lawyers involved, knowing as they do, that the libel laws in this country favour the rich and punish the truthful.
It’s completely dishonest, and is on a par with the myth of customer service, which as the world and its gnarly old dog knows is designed to extract the last bit of money out of you and ends up giving you no service at all.
These days, the PRs can shelter behind an impenetrable wall and not have to answer any questions at all. There are honourable exceptions – like the rest of us most bear a resemblance to a human being and some even realise that it’s in the interests of their company or their government department to be transparent. Mostly, they’re the intelligent lot – the lot that realise it’s better to contain a PR catastrophe right from the beginning than to outright deny it. But they are few and far between. Too few, and too far.
Did you know we hacks are ranked into “tame”, “influential” and “dangerous”? Better, as Tipu Sultan said, to be a tiger for a day than a sheep for the rest of your life. Tipu Sultan is not pictured on the top left – this is some Pasha a bit like the PR Pashas in Whitehall and the upper echelons of the FTSE 500, ruling an imaginary press empire where nothing, as Lewis Carroll might have written, is ever quite what it seems.