I am inspired to call the question in today’s new age of fact checking and transparency in PR: Is writing and publishing deceptive and untrue headlines a valid practice? As many of you know, our firm represents the local Memphis grocery chain and “your everyday farmer’s market” Easy Way who turns 80 years old this year. Yesterday we pitched a well-written and organized press release containing the facts surrounding the closure of the downtown store (not the chain of stores). The original press release is here: Easy Way – Press Release.
The facts: Easy Way’s business model is shifting. The downtown store has become unprofitable as the customer base demographics have shifted elsewhere. Additionally, the city block the Carter family owns is also a potential desirable location for further development. Easy Way is not saying they are vacating downtown. They are looking at other options and are the current supplier of fresh produce to many of our downtown and Mid-South restaurants. The high cost of potentially renovating the downtown store would be put to better use someplace else.
Link to online version of the story. Is this responsible? Is this really unbiased? Are the high standards of reporting what is right and fair gone? Would this be considered so inaccurate that it could call for legal action? I can’t help but think that this is a big reason for the massive decline of print (newspapers) media and a reason for people like me to have a way to tell the real story (hence blogs and social media). When I saw this headline (and Wayne Risher, I know you didn’t write it) my heart sank for my client. Imagine being in a family business, employing 150+ people in the area and being local for 80 years and opening up the paper to this! Shameful and as an advocate for my clients, downright wrong. If the Commercial Appeal’s mantra is “if it bleeds it leads” then be careful what you pitch. A note to young PR graduates and those new to PR: It doesn’t really matter what your press release says and how much you prepare. What matters is the newspapers buy ink by the train load and once they print their headline, there’s no reversing what people think. Powerful and dangerous.
What has resulted from this headline? The crisis has been created at Easy Way – they have received numerous phone calls from customers, suppliers and restaurants based on the perception that all stores are closing. We are now sending out a media alert to clear up the confusion due to this misleading headline. The Distribution Center and all six other area locations will remain open for years to come and are even undergoing renovations and improvements.
“We can not believe the time we spent working on this story, talking to our employees and suppliers and the time we spent making sure our press release was accurate and fair, said David Carter- Secretary and Treasurer of Easy Way Produce. “I went over and over this information and these facts with the reporter on the phone and the end result is that they still print what they want. Their print headline blew us out of the water.”
Recently, Dan Rather urged PR professionals to recommit to working on behalf of the public’s best interest. When public relations operates at its best, it is helping more than a client or corporation — it is helping the general public, said Rather,
While journalists and PR practitioners may have different employers, both professions — at their best — serve the public, he said. “This country needs you and your work right now, your best work,” Rather added. [SOURCE] This poses the question: If PR professionals are operating at their best, shouldn’t the media be doing so also?
So I am writing this blog which I hope makes PRDaily’s news and I am calling for the profession to weigh in here. I want to know if it is the newspapers’ agenda to lead with negative and shocking news (and this is a business story) to sell papers. I think the days of deception are ending.
And, psst… Easy Way is a big advertiser in the Commercial Appeal. Not a smart move, headline writer.
The tradition will continue. You may continue to patronize Easy Way and take home the freshest produce and a vast array of local items at any of the locations listed below. Downtown will be open for business until the end of September, 2012.