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Revealing My Sources

By Joe McAllister

Joe McAllister

Imagine a public relations person being able to provide input at the critical moment when a journalist is writing about that PR person's company. That is the unique service offered by a couple of Canadian periodicals.

Two quarterlies, Sources and the Press Review, offer corporations and public relations personnel the best means to be accessible to journalists at a time when PR can do the most good. They are both celebrating their 10th anniversaries and their longevity shows they are filling a need.

Sources offers a listing service for corporations and associations that describes what the company does and who to contact for comment. It also indexes corporations by subject for quick reference.

Press Review contains a listing service in its back pages, but much of the front of the book is information about who is moving where and doing what in the world of Canadian journalism and PR.

Barrie Zwicker was the publisher of another journalism magazine, Content, when he decided to start Sources as a supplement. The first issue he brought out in June of 1977 contained 32 pages. Sources is now independent and the anniversary issue for the summer of 1987 will contain 350 pages. "It will have grown 10 times in 10 years. You wouldn't have expected it to grow that much," Zwicker said.

The idea is fairly simple. Sources provides journalists with a way of finding the alternative sides to a story. It has a strictly controlled circulation to 10,000 working journalists, some libraries and of course the companies and organizations that buy space in the book.

Purchasing space in Sources is done on a sliding scale. "The smaller the organization the less they pay," Zwicker said. That helps keep the number of listings high. Sources has 1,759 listings and includes many of the industry organizations important in this country. It also includes many consumer and advocacy associations. Zwicker feels large corporations should be happy to be paying more than smaller companies and see the number of listings grow. Having a large list makes the whole thing more valuable to journalists.

Zwicker knows journalists well enough to realize they expect "freebies," and they wouldn't buy Sources themselves. Another problem is journalists don't tell public relations people they use Sources, preferring the PR people to think it was the reporter's bright idea to phone and not something they got out of a book.

That makes it difficult for Zwicker to go out and sell PR people on paying to be included in Sources, since they don't know how often the journalists use it.

I once worked on a daily out in the boondocks and can't say how many times, working on deadline, I needed comment from a major comany or industry on a local story I was doing. As often as not I would reach for Sources, find the name of an appropriate PR officer and in minutes have someone knowledgeable on the phone to explain or justify what was going on locally.

The information I was seeking wasn't about major national issues, but there's nothing more fun for a small-time journalist than a local story about people up against a big corporation. Sources offers an invaluable way for PR people to keep in contact with the smaller media outlets and get involved with those small stories which will never make national news but can sure hurt a company's image on a regional basis.

Content, it should be noted, is the oldest of all Canadian journalism magazines with 17 years of publishing experience, but it is controversial and critical of all and sundry, so, as one might suspect, advertisers don't support it. Content is published by the Friends of Content, with some help from such established publishers as Maclean Hunter and Southam. A few faithful advertisers, some of them large corporations unafraid of the exchange of ideas, do take ads in Content.

Mike Cassidy and his Press Review has been at the listing game longer than Sources, but has far fewer listings. Cassidy, publisher and editor of Press Review started his listings when he ran a tabloid, Press Journal before he purchased the Press Review. "Some of the chaps buying listings have been with me for over 20 years," Cassidy says.

At one point Press Review was bi-monthly and contained investigative stories and commentary on the press, but during the depression of the early 1980s it was forced to cut back to quarterly issues and toned down its commentary. Listings for the Press Review are $160 for a minimum of eight lines, and a listing is run in four issues of the magazine.

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