Saul Hansell at the New York Times has this to say about dealing with PR people on Facebook:
"I don’t accept friend invitations from most people in the public
relations business, especially at agencies. I feel guilty about this,
as many of them are quite friendly and nice people. But the
relationship is too complex and mostly works better at arms length. It
is their business to sell clients on their special relationship with
reporters, and it makes me uncomfortable to facilitate that."
Once again, the topic of PRs "special relationship" with journalists rears its ugly head. And in one sense, Hansell is absolutely correct. Every PR agency makes claims about the strengths of their relationships with journalists – and attempts to use this as part of their sales pitch to clients.
Of course, agencies don’t have relationships with journalists – people have relationships with people – as I’ve discussed previously, there is no real objective measure of these relationships – or rather, no one has yet attempted to put in place a system for measuring it. Perhaps it could be done. On a qualitative level, journalists could be asked to rank agencies and individuals as to their value to them. Of course, this presupposes that these agencies have a reason to be in regular contact with these journalists. The old adage of "if I have to choose between my journalist relationship and a good story, I’ll take the good story" still applies."
Which is why Facebook could be a way for journalists to demonstrate a relationship – and provide a level playing field for those times when PRs with no relationship with a specific journalist feel they have a good enough story.
Note that Hansell says he doesn’t accept friend invitations from "most" PR people – so by definition, he does accept some. Perhaps unwittingly, he is already showing which PRs he trusts more than others. Also, just because he has a PR on his friends list, it doesn’t automatically mean he will give more credence to a story pitched by one of these people – it simply means he would be more inclined to give the story a hearing – he ultimately is the arbiter of what he writes about. As ever, there are no guarantees.
From my own experience, a goodly proportion of my 200+ Facebook friends are journalists – virtually all have been happy to add me as a friend – they all have the choice of "un-friending" me should they choose. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but at least this is a step in the right direction for providing some kind of transparency to the process.