PR Week, a trade journal for and about flacks, has come to the defense of the New York Times after we published a batch of emails showing how deferential some Times reporters were to flacks. Imagine that!
Earlier this week, we used New York's open records law to obtain email exchanges between reporters and Eliot Spitzer's communications director during last year's hookergate fiasco — a story that the Times broke. We turned up examples of Times reporters asking for permission to call sources, previewing copy for sign-off, and generally being surprisingly collaborative with a woman who was paid to manage and mislead them.
True, there are places where it seems the journalists went above and beyond what was necessary in a professional relationship, such as asking for permission to call a source, but let's not forget who broke the story. The fact is that it often takes negotiation to get a great story. We can only see the emails; we don't know the content of the phone calls and meetings that no doubt also took place to put the initial piece and continuous follow-up stories together. It takes trade-offs with your sources and, yes, many times those sources are communications staffers.
So there you have it. Sometimes good journalism requires engaging negotiations and trade-offs with the people who are paid to make sure reporters have to engage in negotiations and trade-offs, according to the people who are paid to make sure reporters have to engage in negotiations and trade-offs. And, to judge by the response we got to that item, according to a lot of reporters, too.