The legal arena is a tricky place to do PR, since public statements can so often have an impact -- appropriately or not -- on the outcome of a case. Most lawyers tend to make very carefully scripted public statements about cases so as not to contaminate what's happening in the courtroom.
Except for these people. A group of district attorneys in California are angry with newspaper reporters they believe are -- to put it mildly -- incorrectly covering their cases. So what are they doing about it? Going to the web and publishing their side of the story. Example:
[Kern County District Attorney Edward Jagels] launched what he promised to be a weekly column on the county government's Web page called "Every Lie They Print," taking on the Bakersfield Californian's crime reporting.
Jagels was particularly upset by reporting of the appellate reversal of a murder conviction based on a prosecutor withholding from the defense negative details about an informant in the case.
Jagels said that if the honesty and integrity of police and the district attorney's office is "maligned through innuendo and scandal mongering, it is essential that I comment."
The paper has written about Jagels' Web site and pointed readers to it from the Californian's Web site. There are mixed feelings about it in the newsroom, according to Assistant Managing Editor Lois Henry.
"There are people here who feel this is a breathless abuse of power by a very, very powerful man ... . Others in the newsroom think it is an interesting exchange that we would not be able to do without the technology," Henry said.
Elsewhere in the story it alludes to the worn but still generally useful advice not to argue with people who buy ink by the barrel. Translated, that says of course: "Newspapers speak to everyone at once. You can't, so don't try -- it's not that you're right or wrong, it's that you can't win."
Is that the case any longer? If the balance isn't equal, it's getting closer to equal. To refute the journalist's side of the story, you just publish your own web page. More and more people are bound to see it.
The question at that point becomes which has more of the objective facts on its side. Traditionally you would assume the journalist does, thanks to its heritage as a de facto public advocate. As I've said many a time, I admire journalism and journalists, but objectively I would say there's growing perception that agenda-free journalism ain't what it used to be. (There's a very good example of that here.)
I have heard of companies, when convinced they're about to be hatcheted by a broadcast story, will hire their own camera crew and film the interview right alongside the journalists. If they don't like the shading of the edited story, they'll publish the interview on a web page as a way to present their side of the story and, one would presume, expose the bias of the journalist.
I don't know that this is a great way to build media relationships, and I don't think, generally speaking, that I would counsel a client to take up that sword. I find it particularly interesting that the ease of tool usage makes everyone capable of presenting a point of view, and that it's going to further impact the way journalism, and media relations, are practiced.