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Resource  8, May 2014

The Toad @ JFDI: The ideal founder – journalist relationship dynamics

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The Toad’s opinion on how journalists can help startup founders get more public interest, while also being ethical by remaining neutral

There is an interesting relationship between new companies and the media, both new and traditional. The objective is to get more visibility for your startup, but it’s not always that simple.

Journalism, according to the SPJ code of ethics, is about seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. However, for startups and even more established companies, it is difficult to be authentic to journalists, especially about their failures, perhaps because there is a lack of trust. Starting a business is hard work; the last thing a startup needs is a controversial opinion piece about its business on the news, even if it’s validated with relevant information.

Bearing that in mind, most startups would want to establish a relationship with the journalist where they can trust him or her to have their company’s best interests at heart. However, by writing about the startups while not disclosing all they know, journalists may effectively self-censor themselves to their audience, which is undesirable.

Few days ago, there was a The Indus Entrepreneurs (TiE) event to cover the topic of “How to get press coverage for startups”. Experienced media professionals from public relations, traditional media, online news and bloggers were all represented. The panelists were Elaine Huang, Senior Correspondent from e27; Grace Chng, Senior Correspondent from the Straits Times; Khushil Vaswani, Senior Account Director of Weber Shandwick; Neetu Mirchandani, Prominent Blogger at Tickled Media; and Hugh Mason, Co-founder of JFDI.Asia. The panelists were moderated by Roshni Mahtani, Founder of theAsianparent.

The conversation revolved around startups being authentic, and having a unique story that would catch the press attention. It’s not the journalist that would approach startups in most cases, it’s startups that would approach the journalist. Bearing that in mind, there must be a distinctive part of your business that would draw attention. It’s generally agreed that most of the time, the journalist would want to correspond with the startup founder directly instead of through a public relations agency.

Back to the topic of self-censorship, each journalist has different ideas on how much to withhold. It’s a call they make on a personal level. While the ideal is to bring all facts to light, most journalists are not in the habit of making startup founders miserable, and it is also not productive in the long-term.

My personal opinion is one of necessity. Is it necessary to reveal information that you know could potentially damage the business? I would argue that most of the time, the story doesn’t need it. However, if the situation demands it, I’d quote what Gloria Steinem, columnist for New York magazine stated, “The truth will set you free, but first it will piss you off”.

Theon Leong

Theon Leong

Theon is a skeptic who believes in possibilities after learning that three thirds of a pie does not add up to one and that cats can be dead and alive at the same time. He writes about business and technology, and is particularly interested in deconstructing complex ideas into bite-sized chunks. His favorite novel is The Little Prince, and spends his free time on chess and video games.

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