Do Journalists Make Bad PR People?
I read this short piece, “The Great Journalism Exodus,” by Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic. In it, he discusses the fact that many journalists are switching over to public relations jobs. That’s nothing new, but we’re definitely seeing more of it in this economy, and with the “traditional” media changing and shedding jobs in the process.
But Goldberg also wrote a couple of things that irked me. First, on whom PR flacks will pitch if the “media” are shrinking:
“…they’ll flack to underpaid, undertrained bloggers.”
Well, yes, in a sense there is some truth to that. But they’ll also flack to passionate people who happen to blog- those bloggers not only are closer to the audience than mainstream media– they are the audience, in a way traditional media tries not to be. That’s just another short-sighted disdainful slap at those “amateur bloggers” from the ivory tower of print media.
It also gets to another pet peeve, which is frankly perpetuated by many PR agencies and some of their clients: that PR is all about media (including blogger) relations. Of course, that would be a journalist or columnist’s view of the world, and I have certainly seen this point of view played out in a skewed manner too many times. PR is so much more than that- messaging and strategy, crisis counsel (wouldn’t a seasoned reporter be good at that?), and, becoming more important, content creation (I think journalists know a thing or two there as well) are equally important parts of the PR mix.
Goldberg also quotes Richard Mintz of the DC-based Barbour Group:
“Journalists by their nature don’t make great advocates or public relations people because they’re trained to be objective rather than to take sides,” he said. “They also tend to work alone, and they have no business experience.”
Journalists don’t make great advocates? Two things wrong with that: first, a balanced story, even if sponsored (and disclosed as such) by a client, is a better sell to media and the public. It’s more interesting, and gains trust with the media and the audience. Second, while journalism strives to be objective, every outlet, every reporter and editor, every story has a pint of view that affects the outcome, even if only in the slightest. I’ve been a journalist, and I never pretended otherwise. Furthermore, Goldberg’s example of hack-turned-flack is a reporter from the right-leaning (some friends will say I’m being kind) Washington Times going to work for BGR Group, a PR firm founded by Republican lobbyist and now Governor Haley Barbour. Sounds like a natural fit to me. Taking sides? Believe me, that’s an easy transition, and it was easier for me than I thought it would be 12 years ago.
As for no business experience, point taken. I guess hacks turned flacks will have to compare their business experience to 22 year olds right out of university PR schools (no offense, best and brightest students!).
Most reporters who want to pursue PR jobs will be just fine, as long as there are the jobs for them. I have seen many make the adjustment just fine over the years.
Which side of The Atlantic are you on?