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Message Ronn Torossian
Working in public relations and, in particular, crisis management, there is a tremendous balancing act between projecting clients' images and agendas and, at the same time, protecting them - essentially keeping the press at bay. Often, as it is, the purpose of PR and wrangling with the media is to encourage positive coverage for whomever or whatever you represent. If the story is not going to be positive, then it is best just not to do it. For some clients, all press is not necessarily good press. The presumed P.T. Barnum, adage, "I don't care what they write about me as long as they spell my name right," cannot be universally applied. Media can do as much damage as it can good. The job of a good PR person is to protect his clients and make them look their best in the media and in public.

It is for this reason that I found myself agreeing with the recent Obama campaign's decision to ban a reporter deemed to be from a publication believed to be less than objective for Obama from his press plane on this week's International "foreign policy" trip. Let's face it, there's no shortage of reporters wanting to travel with the presidential candidate - as the campaign received 200 requests for press seats on the plane, of which they were able to grant only 40 - so why grant space to someone who may skew coverage in place of someone less inclined to do so? It is hard to imagine the New York Yankees allowing a Boston-minded sports reporter unfettered locker room access.

Candidates and clients as well, offer access to media with the hope, and perhaps even the expectation that media will present a positive narrative. Yet, anyone worth his salt in public relations knows all to well that media access by its very nature presents the possibility of either a good or a bad story. So, if there is choice, why ante-up with media deemed to be biased against your position when there are so many other journalists one can gamble on to better the odds?

Equally as reporters at the top tier publications want exclusive information, unique off the record comments and the like, so too must there be a very fair and real expectation for them that if they present a negative or seemingly prejudicial story then the possibility of being excluded is very real - especially when there is a major issue at stake, like a presidential election, and especially where the candidate has the luxury of choosing any media he prefers. Indeed, he cannot avoid bad coverage from someone inclined to do so, but he does not need to offer a seat on his plane.

The banned reporter in question, Ryan Lizza of New Yorker Magazine learned that Obama had earned a reputation of "'you're not going to punk me, you're not going to roll me over, you're not going to jam me.'"[i] This is not an issue of Freedom of the Press; Lizza can write what he wants, but Obama is not obligated to open his arms in welcome. Hypocritical outrage by media over such policies is also absurd, as stated in The Huffington Post, "Wow. So it's gonna be like that, is it? Retribution for unfavorable coverage is a chilling thing to contemplate." No, it is not chilling - it is valid. When journalists cross the road from objective reporting of the news to arbiters of fate, they should expect that those on the receiving end of their opinions or ideals to be cautious.

I find myself agreeing with this statement from Anita Dunn, an Obama advisor, "The press corps wouldn't be doing its job it if weren't demanding more access than we're willing to give," Ms. Dunn said. "We wouldn't be doing our job if we didn't occasionally irritate the press."[ii]

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I understand those of us in the public relations business who feels that media must not be allowed to simply run rampant over clients - especially those who garner tremendous media attention. It does not mean that we should not cooperate with media - We do, but while we would love totally positive coverage, we generally seek what we can expect to be fair and objective.

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Ronn Torossian is the Founder, President & CEO of New York City based 5W Public Relations. Since founding the firm, he has overseen the company's rapid growth and expansion, and provided advice and counsel to hundreds of companies, global interests, (more...)
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