Category Archives: Journalism

AP Style, The Mother Tongue of Journalism

A couple of recent experiences here at CBR reminded us about the importance that journalism training plays – or should play – in public relations careers.

The first was a post on Ragan.com noting changes in the 2013 Associated Press Stylebook. That brought back a vivid memory for me from my days as a freshman journalism major.

On day one, our wizened journalism department dean gave us one assignment — memorize the AP stylebook. He was the first of many instructors and editors to refer to the stylebook as the journalist’s bible. Of course, that would be bible with a lower-case “b”. The word Bible is capitalized only when making reference to Scriptures in the Old Testament or the New Testament — it says so right there on page 31 of  the AP Stylebook (2011 edition).

The newest stylebook edition, published May 29, 2013, tells us, among other things, that it’s now okay to use numerals for all references to distance and dimension, e.g. a 3-mile stretch of road, a 9-pound hammer.

So why should the public relations industry care about such minutiae?

The answer is as simple and fundamental as anything we do. In order to communicate our clients’ key messages effectively, we must connect with our target audience. Just as we must learn the ins and outs of effective social media communications, we also must learn to speak the native language of the newsroom, and that’s AP style.

Reporters and editors often look for any excuse to spike (trash) a news release, and finding a glaring AP style mistake provides an easy one.

The second thing that got us thinking about the symbiotic relationship between journalism and public relations was our realization that some college public relations programs do not require a journalism course as part of their core curricula.

We’re back to basics on this one, too. Despite the ever-changing media landscape, there is a set of standards and ethics at the core of the journalism profession that defines news and drives day-to-day operations at every television news station and newspaper. Public relations professionals must have a working knowledge of those core standards and ethics.

As Florida’s premier media relations firm, we understand that public relations professionals — new and old — benefit from knowing as much as possible about the journalism side of the equation. Providing newsrooms with what they are looking for — timely, newsworthy, relevant, quirky items — written in their language improves our chances of getting our clients’ stories told.

It’s an integral part of our job here at CBR and one we do well.

Robert Perez is vice president at CBR.

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Al Jazeera America: Media Friend or Foe?

Today (Aug. 20) marks the beginning of a bold experiment in American journalism and American cultural tolerance. The experiment in journalism is actually more like a return to the not-so-distant past while the experiment in cultural tolerance is the nation’s reaction to something it may not easily welcome.

If you haven’t figured it out yet, I’m speaking of the launch of the Al Jazeera America news network. Well-financed and vowing to offer viewers national news without slant, Al Jazeera America is the most controversial network to hit the airways since . . . well, there’s really no comparison.

Parent company Al Jazeera, which has operated in the Arab world since 1996, is best known on our shores as the news organization that brought us messages allegedly from Al Qaeda leader Osama Bin Laden in the months and years after the 9/11 bombings. What are we to think of a news organization with the dangerous-sounding name that somehow gained a foothold for news in the camp of the enemy, bringing the voice and venom of a jihadist organization into our collective living rooms?

Now, it is setting up shop in New York City saying it will raise the caliber of national news coverage. Its leadership, both foreign-born and domestic, claims it will provide balanced and unbiased national news coverage in the tradition of Walter Cronkite and David Brinkley. In other words, it is trying to set itself apart from the partisan coverage provided by the likes of FOX and MSNBC or the increasingly celebrity-centric CNN.

Al Jazeera America, which will be beamed into 48 million American homes, gained a foothold on American airways by buying the Current TV network (think Al Gore) in January for $500 million. Financed in part by the oil-rich government of Qatar, Al Jazeera America has hired a team of nearly 900 journalists and staff and plans to open a dozen news bureaus in cities such as Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Dallas and Denver.

Some of the journalists on the Al Jazeera team are familiar faces. They include former NBC news anchor John Seigenthaler, CNN’s Soledad O’Brien, CBS’ Joie Chen and Good Morning America’s Antonio Mora.

The American news landscape will provide a fascinating laboratory to run the Al Jazeera America experiment over the coming months and years. Can a wary American public be lured in by a straight, no-spin news product — assuming that Al Jazeera America successfully delivers it? Or will natural fear and distrust of a foreign-run news agency operating in our heartland be too much to overcome?

Only time will tell.

Robert Perez is vice president at CBR.