Like that of all journalists, my inbox often overflows with press releases for new products, websites, services and the like. Over the years, I’ve seen my share of poorly written pitches: ones that don’t use punctuation or correct grammar, ones that spell my name wrong, and even one that mentioned that the company’s product would be perfect for my readership since I’m the editor of a high school newspaper.
But the press release I received over the weekend takes the cake.
It starts out as your basic press release for a new textbook selling/renting website: it explains why the site is better than the dozens of nearly identical ones already established, mentions how much my readership would want to know about the site and throws in some over-the-top praise (apparently, I’m a “media genius”.) Then the (unnamed) PR flack writing the pitch makes me an offer he thinks I can’t refuse: Write about the website for my newspaper — following all of the company’s conditions — and I’ll be entered to win an iPad.
The e-mail links to a website that spells out the company’s guidelines for the article:
Write. Post. Win.
Writers, we want you to tell students about Swellhead. The most shared article will win a new iPad. iPads are great for taking notes during an interview, catching up on the news or renting textbooks on Swellhead.
To enter, write about Swellhead in your newspaper or magazine. The article must be at least 200 words long and must appear in a prominent space on [sic] your newspaper. Your article must link back to our site. After you have written your article, post your article’s URL on Swellhead’s Facebook wall.
That’s it. Journalists and Editors, get ready for your new iPad.
Sounds like a deal. All I have to do is disregard every journalism ethics rule I’ve ever learned, sully my reputation and that of my newspaper, risk my job and any future employment, and I could (key word: could) win an iPad! Sign me up. I’ll be so busy planning what apps to download that I won’t even notice my integrity flying out the window.
In all seriousness, how does a public relations person not understand the basic journalistic principle of not accepting gifts in exchange for positive coverage? Or does he just assume that because I’m a student journalist, I’ll be so tempted by the iPad that I won’t care about ethics? It’s insulting that he would even suggest I would take that offer, and I’m sure any other journalist worth his salt would say the same thing.
But the saddest part is, I’m willing to bet at least someone will take the company up on its offer.