Now that he’s no longer the White House Press Secretary, Jay Carney has a lot to say about the job.
Last night he was on David Letterman reflecting on the relationship between himself and the press pool, one that’s not always so congenial. One need only go back to footage of a few Q&As between Carney and members of the press to see that there was, as Letterman put it, a “rub” between the person behind the podium and the journalists in the audience.
Having covered politics prior to his appointment to the White House, Carney was aware of this “adversarial” relationship. And though there were a couple of times where we cringed as we watched him try to navigate the aggressive questions that were being tossed at him, in the Letterman interview, he talks about the experience almost (almost) in positive terms.
“As a democracy, we would be rightfully concerned if there wasn’t that tension,” he says at one point. “If the White House press corps was just happy with what they got every day and they weren’t working to get more, they wouldn’t be doing their jobs.”
That’s a lesson that a lot of publicists should remember.
Journalists don’t exist to provide good PR for your clients. They’re meant to provide information to the audience ideally. And these days, with the importance of the Internet, they have to drive traffic to their sites and content. Sometimes, the expectations of PRs goes beyond what they should be. Perhaps it’s the expectation of the client. Perhaps there’s this perception that all journos should be taking a light touch to get future stories or to keep from getting into a confrontation. Whatever it is, sometimes the give-and-take of the relationship gets lost in a way that will make a reporter or producer not really want to work with a PR (and vice versa).
Separately but related, there was an interesting profile of Re/code co-founder and former AllThingsD reporter Kara Swisher in a recent issue of New York magazine. If you’re a tech PR, you’ve probably read it or bookmarked it to get back to it. Even if that isn’t your area, take a look at it. It gives some interesting insight into how a reporter who is both respected and feared tries to find balance between the relationships she has with sources and the needs of her content. Sometimes there are some gray, tricky areas. But she makes it clear that she feels the need to ask tough questions. And if you need to push back, so be it. That’s the name of the game.
That’s a large part of the point that Carney is trying to make here, but the stakes are much higher when you’re talking about government and policy. Anyways, here’s the clip. Enjoy.