One of the old cliches of the public relations industry is “Never mess with someone who buys ink by the barrel.” It’s a warning not to get into a pissing match with the media unless confrontation is absolutely necessary because such conflict can impact your chances of getting coverage for yourself or clients in the future.
As the New York Times reported in an article today, journalists at the Santa Barbara News-Press are seeing that axiom play out after the paper’s publisher wrote a front cover letter to readers in the newspaper, ripping into her staff. She also issued a gag order on her writers, who responded by protesting outside the paper with tape over their mouths.
The publisher holds ultimate control over what’s printed, as she has expressly shown by using what is typically space reserved for news to share her message. She also has retained crisis management services.
It should be interesting to watch this PR battle play out.