We asked two PRSA board members and seasoned journalists-turned-PR-pros to provided commentary on a recent Washington Post article, “Why the PR industry is sucking up Pulitzer winners.”
The Washington Post story makes some very valid points, but misses an important element of the story: The writer didn’t talk to reporters who have stayed in journalism and who still get all they need out of that profession. So, while his story paints a reasonable picture of those who have left, it ignores the many journalists who remain, doing great work at many news outlets—including all the news outlets in Portland. While some are anxious to leave, others thrive under the difficult circumstances and still produce amazing work. The story implied everyone is unhappy.
Why do journalists become public relations professionals? Partly because it’s the most obvious career to transition to when you are unhappy with your career, salary and/or life balance.
In fact, that’s my story.
I have often said that TV News is a lot like homemade salad dressing: A swirling mixture of vinegar (news) and oil (entertainment). A TV News reporter walks a fine line in every story attempting to balance the two—keeping the salad dressing stirred, not letting it separate, as it will do if left unshaken.
I left TV journalism for two reasons, one journalistic and one very, very practical. I was required to spending valuable airtime proving to the audience that my station was better than the competition: “As we first told you last night…”; “As we first showed you when our chopper flew over the scene…”. Our producers were asking me, “Where will you be live tonight?”—a way of focusing on the entertainment aspects, rather than asking me, “What importance does your story have?” which would focus on the news aspect.
And I wanted to regain some semblance of control over my hectic, unplanned life. I wanted a life balance that I finally recognized I would never have in TV News. It only took me 20 years to figure that out!
But contrary to the implication of the Washington Post story, when I went to work for state government, I found exactly what the Post’s story stated former reporters no longer have: “It’s that sense of public service that my reporter friends who’ve left the business say they miss,” the reporter writes. He makes an error, I think, of presuming that you can’t find that same important mission in public relations. I did. And to my chagrin many journalist friends don’t seem to understand it.
My ethics didn’t change when I changed hats from a reporter to a public relations professional. If anything, they clarified: I know my ethical duty: To the truth.
And I could easily modify Mr. Bhatia’s remark about the number of state government jobs going to former reporters at The Oregonian. I, too, have joked that every government spokesman job in Oregon is held by…a former TV News reporter.
A bit of an exaggeration, yes. But it’s not that far off.
Barbara Kerr, APR
Chief Communications Officer
Sisters of St. Mary of Oregon Ministries Corporation
PRSA Portland Metro Immediate Past President
I would also note that, as public relations professionals and journalists, we share important connections. We are communicators. We are storytellers. And credibility and trust are vitally important to being able to do our jobs. If we have credibility and trust, we can contribute to the organizations that we serve. If we lose credibility and trust, it is difficult (if not impossible) to regain them.