Hacks and Flacks

Press, PR folks examine relationship

By Melissa McGrath

The Idaho Press Club’s Southwest Chapter attempted to answer an eternal question in the news industry:  How can ‘hacks’ and ‘flacks’ get along better in the course of doing their jobs?  The answer: It all comes down to relationships, according to a panel of journalists and public relations specialists.

The panel of six – three ‘hacks’ and three ‘flacks’ (who are all former reporters) discussed the issue at “The Hacks and Flacks Summit” on Wednesday, Nov. 7 in Boise.  The panel was made up of Vickie Holbrook, managing editor of the Idaho Press-Tribune; Mark Danielson of Local News 8; Kevin Godwin of Peak Broadcasting; Andrea Dearden, spokeswoman for the Ada County sheriff’s office; Melinda Keckler of Scott Peyron & Associates; and Lynn Hightower of the Boise Police Department.

“It really is about relationships,” said Danielson. “We have to spend the time to build that relationship. I don’t think we do that enough in this business.”

The panelists also fielded other questions, including “How can I get my story in the news?” and “How do you tell a reporter he/she got it wrong?”  Still, all the panelists emphasized the importance of the relationship and the trust between the reporter and the person on the other end.

In the end, the panelists listed several helpful pieces of advice for people in the news industry, especially on the public relations end.

Some advice for ‘flacks’:

  • Be proactive. Get to know the reporters covering your topics.
  • Visit a newsroom to see firsthand how reporters work.
  • Talk to a reporter before you call to pitch a story.
  • Reporters are busy people. Give them clear and concise information.

Some advice for ‘hacks’:

  • Build relationships with the public relations
  • people who work on your beat.
  • Let the flacks know what helps you as a reporter. One example: Do not just write “Press Release” in the subject line of an e-mail. Give reporters more information in the subject line to catch their eyes.

Melissa McGrath is the public information officer for the state Department of Education. She is a former newspaper reporter and is the associate representative on  the Idaho Press Club board.