In My Opinion: Bill Heaney: Journalists don’t have crystal balls

THERE was a lot of feedback the other day on social media when Beattie Communications said – read it here on – they were having difficulties recruiting talent to their operation, which turns over nearly £7 million a year.

Beattie said their solution would be to train their own people.

And they might have a point, since some of the ones in PR already I think leave much to be desired.

What convinced me of this was the response I received to a request from a PR company (not Beattie) for a facility to help me write a travel feature.

It’s something I have done hundreds of times since I came into newspapers more than 50 years ago.

It wasn’t an outrageous request. It wasn’t as if I was asking for a ticket to fly first class to the Bahamas or the key for a suite at the Sandy Lane Hotel.

I just wanted a ticket to take me somewhere quite close to home and I gave the PR the usual assurances that I would credit them in the ‘how to get there’ paragraph at the end of the feature.

And most probably I would mention them in the feature, as I had done many times in the past.

PRs used to welcome such requests, but my jaw dropped when I was asked to tell them not just where and when I would be going but what I would be writing.

They wanted to know precisely what it would be about and asked me to detail the coverage my article would receive in publications I would need to name.

And by detail, I mean detail, although I had supplied them with cuttings of previous articles I had written.

Their email said: “You mention you have a forthcoming piece planned around angling in… and golf around the… coast.

“Can you detail where the piece will feature and when and an indication of its size, eg dps, single column, etc.”

Am I the only journalist who believes this request to be remarkable – and unacceptable?

They wanted to know if they would be getting a centre spread or a single column piece or whatever and where and when it would appear.

The only thing they didn’t ask for was to edit the copy before it went into the paper.

I thought PR people were there to help writers, not to put obstacles in their way.

Someone should tell them that journalists do not have crystal balls and that editors would never allocate space to stories they have never seen.

Bill Heaney is an award-winning journalist who edited the Lennox Herald for many years and was a special adviser, on the regional Press, at Holyrood and a media adviser at Westminster. He is now retired but continues to operate as a columnist with the Lennox Herald and a pro bono media consultant to a number of churches and charities.