An Open Letter to Ms Joyce Hooi
Dear Miss Hooi,
I’m writing to congratulate you on your contribution to declining op-ed standards at the Business Times. Under the column of Miss Ann Thrope, an amusing play on the word, you have certainly demonstrated the Business Times has a sophisticated understanding of the communications industry and how the media interacts with it.
First of all, I have to note that your article, no matter how witty or innocuous it attempts to sound, casts the Business Times in a poor light. As a daily that’s business focused, I expect that your op-eds should sound less like a compilation of Facebook rants. Instead, you might wish to reference op-eds found in the FT Weekend, which are amusing and have little to do with business, but certainly better thought out.
Of course, given that the theme of your opinion column is misanthropy (disdain of the human nature), I understand you need to convey this in an immediate manner, and public relations personnel are the professionals you frequently interact with in order to garner news information. Or perhaps you believed, rightly or wrongly, that being provocative is the most effective manner of reaching out to a broader audience. Judging by the reactions I’ve read online regarding your article, I have to say that you have succeeded at being provocative. However, being provocative for the sake of doing so lowers the standards of the paper you represent to the standards of The Daily Mail, or perhaps News of the World. It certainly lowers my opinion of the Business Times to that same level.
As a professional in the media industry, I find your fifth point odd and it brings us back to the point of being provocative for the sake of being provocative. Then again, I don’t write for a newspaper, so I cannot comment if you print or ask decoy questions in an interview. I don’t believe that any public relations person “shies away from tough questions”. I have never encountered this before. I do believe that corporations frequently have guidelines on what their spokespersons can communicate, in some cases due to legal reasons and in others due to a corporate agenda. Much like Singapore Press Holdings. Requests for questions prior to interviews in order to prep the interviewee aren't surprising. You’re not obliged to answer these requests. In return, they aren’t obliged to offer you an an interview.
Suggesting that the public relations industry is not necessary is another interesting point. If you believe that when requesting to speak with a global corporate CEO, as one out of 1,000 requests that any major firm gets, you can simply contact a CEO directly and expect an answer, you have a slightly inflated sense of self. Or perhaps you believe that with the advent of social media, you can cut out the middle man and go directly to the source. You could be right, but given that social media is part of a corporation’s public relations strategy, you will likely end up in the same place as you are currently.
Public relations and the press have a symbiotic relationship. As a newspaper, you require sources and quotes from significant persons in firms to back up your story. Of course, facts and figures are important, but if one only need print facts and figures in a newspaper, we wouldn’t need writers such as yourself either. Public relations personnel wish to access the press so that they can engage in branding for their company or clients they represent. Perhaps, as one of the leading newspapers in the country, you believe that you have the upper hand, and therefore need pay no respect to an industry that has aided you in your work so that they can do theirs. But as sources of information, public relations can shrivel your access to the minimum. I’d like to see how effective you can be as a writer of news, if the public relations industry no longer wish to oblige your requests for interviews or information. Perhaps you have never read Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I strongly advocate you to do so.
I have to admit that you have pointed out, and correctly so, that certain persons in the public relations industry have a less professional attitude toward their job. But by attempting to paint the entire industry with broad strokes in over 700 words, you’ve only demonstrated that you stereotype, and not accurately so. Of course, Singapore Press Holdings has the highest standards of journalistic qualities, so you have every right to be as condescending as you have been to any other industry.
Please note that I have not written this email out of anger. I’m simply astounded at the standards of journalism in the Business Times, and as a writer of lifestyle content, I have to say that I certainly don’t consider myself to be in the same field as you do. I never will. I hope that you have a long and fruitful career in the Business Times, because in most media companies, we consider our editorial staff to be the public front of their products. Given your misanthropy toward the industry, I imagine you would not succeed well in representing your product. Incidentally, your op-ed would be what the public relations industry classifies as a “PR disaster”, both for the paper and your own credibility as a news writer.
N.B. The opinions expressed in this article are strictly that of the author and not those of AUGUSTMAN magazine.