Them and Us

Nick Parker of The Sun in Burma

Blogging seems to be doing something strange to the relationship between journalists and press officers. Once upon a time a press officer might help a reporter with a story – providing a quote, setting up an interview, forwarding a policy paper and so on – and the reporter would then write that story. The aftermath would generally involve said press officer then complaining to his boss and/or colleagues that the reporter had missed the point and/or misrepresented everything that was said, while the reporter would complain to his boss and/or colleagues that the press officer was clueless and/or a control freak.
It was a bit messy but broadly worked. I spent many a happy hour in The Station Bar in Glasgow moaning about that day’s problems, before forgetting all about them.
Times are changing. Now it seems these gripes go straight on the web. Adam Mynott of the BBC recently visited the Masai Mara to put together a TV piece on animals being poisoned. Here is the verdict from Mara Triangle, whose author helped with the visit.

First, let me say, that there is not one false fact within the piece, however there is a combination of stories that when woven together create a false impression of the local Maasai and their involvement of the poisoning of lions here in the Mara Triangle.

A few weeks back I was listening to a BBC World Service debate when a press officer chirped up with a story about a newspaperman who had approached his charity to help him get into Burma. The PR man declined when he heard the object of the trip was for the paper to deliver water to thirsty kids. Too much of a stunt, he thought. Anyway, you don’t have to look too hard to see who he was talking about.
But it’s the internet where it happens most frequently. My first experience of this was more personal. A couple of years ago I emailed a press officer a list of rather involved questions about the nomadic herders who live in Kenya’s remote north-east and were suffering yet another cataclysmic drought. I was wondering whether delivering food aid was really the best way to help people living an essentially unsustainable lifestyle, unchanged in centuries. The issue, I thought, raised some interesting questions about aid and development.
In the subject line of the email I asked what I thought was a deliberately provocative question that encapsulated the current state of the debate: “Pastoralists – are they buggered?”
I was less than amused to see that line subsequently appear on the press officer’s blog, under the heading “See what I have to deal with” or some such.(The blog no longer exists.)
Anyway, can’t we all just get along a bit? It’s one thing to moan to your mates down the pub. But shouldn’t we think twice about airing our grievances on the internet?