Boomerang Research or Can They Really Be This Lazy?

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(CC) photo credit: sparkle_lavalamp // flickr

Recently a question popped up among one of our “journalists-seeking-experts”  services asking a ridiculously simple question.  I’m not going into specifics, like which service it came from, who asked it, or what it was — this hack hasn’t earned a call out, I believe them to be a victim rather than an instigator.

The question was along the lines of:

“[Reporter] from [Large Outlet]  seeks zoologist to tell me the gestation period of elephants.”

This is a pretty simple question, there’s no odd specialty needed, there’s no real specificity to the question that requires any specialized knowledge.  Worse yet, the original question was even less specific.

We, as flacks, get crap all the time about generic pitching, not checking out an outlet or reporter’s coverage first, and any other excuse to tell us we aren’t doing our job properly or are lazy.

And it happens.  But it’s nice to see a reminder from the other side of the table that it’s not just us.

We’re constantly told by journalists (usually while rejecting a pitch) that they’re busy, hard-working, and don’t have time to wade through off-topic query responses, unrequested pitches, or piles of unwanted [whatever].

So I can totally see why this journalist decided to send out a query for a topic that any veterinary student, half the staff at any decent zoo or Google could answer.

No I don’t.

Let’s review the process – Submit query, wait for it to post, wait for PILES of responses, probably half of which are off topic, review them, find a few of interest, call their flacks, schedule a call time, call, ask the stupid question then write it up.

I can definitely see where it wouldn’t be easier, faster and provided less piles of all the things we’ve been told hacks hate, to just:

  1. Find some of the best zoos in America,
  2. Call one of their PR departments, and
  3. Say, “Hey!  I want to quote your guy in [Large Outlet]. I have this question, can your guy call me back by this time?”

Whatever happened to tracking down a source, trying to find the right person to answer the tough question, spending some time on a phone, in front of reference materials, talking to colleagues to find the right person?  I completely understand sending out a query when there’s a very specific/detailed question and/or a very short deadline and you just don’t know where to go for the right answer.

But the easy question, the one that screams ‘I can be answered by almost anyone!’ – does that really call for a query and all the time consuming responses that come with it?  The ones the journalists hate . . .

I’ve worked with (in a hack-flack relationship) a number of hard-working journalists who do not do this — the great majority in fact. I have a great respect for most of the journalists I have the pleasure of working with.  The last thing I’m trying to do is cast all journalists in the same light.

But then there are the ones who do this type of thing.  The ones that just read a press release headline and call and ask the questions that are answered in paragraphs one through three of the press release itself.  Or the ones that engage in this new form of ‘boomerang research’ — throw out your question and see what comes back.

So, let’s hear it — have you been seeing more or less of this type of nonsense?  Less?  Am I just noticing the ridiculousness of these queries now?  Cheers — P

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