I'll tell you flat out, I love Public Information Officers - PIOs in journalism parlance.  Without them, I would never get anywhere near the good stuff I get to write about.   I would much, much rather deal with PIOs directly than through paid clearinghouses like AAAS Eurekalert, which seems to be run by sub-literate pygmies bent on keeping science from being written about.   PIOs, on the other hand, love to get more coverage for their researchers without having to bribe AAAS.

But I am not a blogger, nor am I a journalist - and apparently it's not all balloons and ponies between journalists and PIOs.   And some PIOs seem to regard bloggers the way ... well, the way AAAS and aging buddy-network fossils like Don Kennedy do.  Not in high regard.

Since Science 2.0 is sort of tangential to the science blogosphere, though blogging is certainly a pillar of the Science 2.0 concept, I generally miss excitement until after the fact.   I have a lot of stuff to read and comment on here every day so I don't get out much.

Apparently over the weekend, journalist (and Discover blogger) Ed Yong had a bit of a spat with a PIO.  Like numerous people here or Carl Zimmer or any number of feature writers who also blog, Yong is in multiple arenas, so when he is dismissed by a PIO after asking for a researcher's contact information with something like "I think you have all you need for a blog" it is going to rankle him.

Yong is a fine gentleman and too humble to say what I am about to say, so I will be elitist for him.   He's a quality journalist, he blogs for a well-known brand and he won a Keck Futures Initiative Communication Award of the National Academies last year.  His blog posts are longer and better written than 99% of the press releases PIOs shovel off on the public.

In his blog post on the matter which, incidentally, was longer than the press release the PIO insisted was 'all' he needed, he was good-natured enough, writing in response to the PIOs claim of "I was a journalist for 15 years, which included being a newspaper editor and a magazine publisher. I am therefore suitably qualified to advise journalists"  that "if I ever try to further a conversation by citing my CV, someone please shoot me" but there is a more serious issue in there, namely that PIOs need to understand their role.

They are not gatekeepers, they are public relations interfaces.  The arrogance one gets from this PIO is similar to the problems with Eurekalert but, thankfully, I have never encountered it in a PIO.   If I do, I hope I handle it with as much grace as Yong.

The story does not end there, of course.   Embargoes have long been something of a touchy subject and Dr. Ivan Oransky of Reuters who also runs the site EmbargoWatch.com, weighed in and named both the institution, the University of Manchester, and the PIO, Aeron Haworth, something Ed did not do.

Maryn McKenna followed the comments as they spiraled out of control and noted
Haworth has called Ed Yong a “jumped-up arrogant journalist wannabe,” called a fellow PIO “a doormat,” threatened a PR consultant with a defamation suit, mocked the editor of a major science blog network, and joked, “At least none of you lot will ignore my next press release!”
I'm most concerned about the doormat slur.   I was once in the military and most of you believe the military does, you know, military stuff.  Combat.  And it's true, to an extent.  There are combat units, combat support units and then really everything else, people who make sure other people get paid and that forms get from place to place.   They all have some level of importance but the worst thing that can happen in a military unit is when people who sit behind desks think they are more important to the military than the people who actually fight.   

By calling a fellow PIO a 'doormat' for doing his job and cultivating relationships with the media and dragging researchers, sometimes kicking and screaming, to the outreach table, Haworth seems to think science exists to give PIOs something to do, rather than PIOs existing to promote scientists at their schools.   

Maybe a 'long in the tooth' former journalist remembers it being that way when he was still a writer but I would hope he'd want to see it change for the better.