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Banks, Beat Reporters and Not Being Cozy

I know you'll find this hard to believe, but sometimes business reporters get a little cozy with the flacks for the companies they cover.

That's why I'd like to tip my hat to the Associated Press. They did a nice job Monday on a story about the refusal by the nation's leading banks to detail what they are doing with all the taxpayer money they've received. (If you didn't catch it, it's here).

In that story a bank spokesman tried the gambit of getting the reporter not to report that the bank was not commenting (follow that?). This isn't unusual. Sometimes a "no comment" on a story can look just as bad as actually saying something about it.

When a spokesman makes that play it puts the reporter in an awkward position; especially a beat reporter who probably deals with the company fairly often. The PR folk can make your life pretty easy ... giving you an early heads up on company announcements, arranging interviews, saving you time with statistics gathering. But if a reporter burns them, even in the course of good journalism, those conveniences can disappear.

Hey, a lot of reporting is about relationships. And you try to keep relationships good. So a reporter may be inclined to cut a spokesperson a little slack from time to time.

Another trick PR folks try is getting reporters to go off the record to discuss an issue, so they can try to schmooze and spin and win a reporter over to their point of view ... without worrying about their words making it into print. One spokeswoman in that AP story tried that as well.

Hey, PR folks have a job to do and I don't blame them for trying these things. A lot of times these moves work. But in this particular story they didn't and the AP called the flacks out. That move just makes the banking industry's image, which is already in the pits, worse. And no doubt some of the spokespeople involved may hold a grudge about it and look for an opportunity for payback.

Nice job AP, from one hack to another.