Journalists as PR People

From today’s Wall Street Journal:

Want good press? Hire a journalist. That’s Dan Abram’s pitch.

If it were that simple, every business in the country would be lining up to get a journalist on the payroll.

Positioning working journalists as business consultants, former MSNBC newsman Dan Abrams has created a media-strategy firm to help businesses “navigate public-relations challenges.”

Reading the Journal’s article this morning sparked quite the conversation in our office – primarily focusing on the roles journalists and PR practitioners play in communicating news. Abrams Research seems to blur the line between journalism and PR. Let’s face it: A journalist taking money to consult with business is a media relations strategist. That’s just a fancy term for a PR person. Does this crossover present ethical challenges for the journalists? According to the society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics:

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.

Presumably, a journalist coaching one of Abrams’ clients will be privy to sensitive information. If a traditional journalist were to get a hold of that news, they would write up the story and give it to their editor. But, now, are we to assume the consultant/journalist will sit on the story out of loyalty to their client? What happens if that person works for a newspaper and one of their colleagues gets the scoop independently? Does the client question the consultants’ loyalty?

The Code of Ethics also says journalists are to avoid conflicts of interest – real or perceived. And, as we are always telling our clients, perception is reality.

The credibility of news organizations has recently been called into question. In fact, a phrase – infotainment – has been coined to describe the meshing of news and entertainment. How will the news industry’s reputation be affected by the fact that some independent journalists aren’t quite so independent anymore?

Update: Looks like Gawker agrees with us, too. As they put it:

You can’t hire anybody who is in some way a practicing journalist, because then they’re being paid money to consult for somebody, which is a conflict of interest. This is really simple.

Update 2: Looks like the New York Times and Wall Street Journal won’t allow their reporters to work for the firm, citing conflicts of interest.