Thursday, May 24, 2012

Newspaper Reporters and “Selling Out” to PR

In reading a blog post this week from a recent PR transplant from the newspaper business, I noticed for the umpteenth time the reference to the transition as “selling out.”  The term’s not new and it’s not uncommon.  Reporters, particularly those from newspapers, tend to use this term to describe what happens when one of their peers jumps over into the practice of PR.

Those of us who’ve been in PR for some time have gotten used to the term and don’t tend to be bothered by it.  We know that at some point the now former newspaper journalist will realize that he or she in fact did not sell out and are indeed working in a noble profession.  We also know if they spend any time in our business and still don’t realize it the fault has more to do with the individual and not the industry.

That said, in the blog I read this week, the former reporter listed all of the reasons newspaper reporters should consider PR.  The content and tone of the piece indicated that he felt it would be a viable option and possibly a great idea in terms of career progression for journalists.

His points were very insightful and upbeat.  He talked about how we in PR have an opportunity to tell “great stories,” “shape the story,” and “regularly learn something new.”  All so true.

The one point he made, however, that made me bristle was when he talked about how we in PR “get to be an advocate.”  While the role of advocate is one of our most important, when the blogger elaborated, he said that we in PR “occasionally have to smile and make the BPs of the world seem like good corporate citizens.” 

My first work in broadcasting and newspapers started 31 years ago.  I transitioned into PR a few years later.  Yet, until this week, I never fully grasped what some current and former journalists meant when they used the term “selling out.”

Why I didn’t make the connection is probably because I never did sell out.  I don’t support clients, messages or causes that I can’t personally embrace.  If I was asked to represent a BP, I’d have to believe that the company is a good corporate citizen before I’d work to help the world believe the same.

While I’ve always recognized that many publics may not believe a given client is a good corporate citizen at the outset, my two-step process has never failed me.  First, I have to believe.  Second, I have to help the public believe.

What this blogger inferred is that now that he’s in PR, he seems willing to work for organizations that aren’t good corporate citizens and make them “seem like good corporate citizens.”

One word – “seem.”  We’re not in the business of “seem.”  

To PR professionals, former journalists or otherwise, my feeling is if you don’t believe you’re representing a good corporate citizen, your first duty is to help them become one.  If you can’t do that, then you do have to consider whether you will indeed sell out.  But you're not selling out to the PR business.  Rather, you're embracing an ethical standard that reflects your own personal choices, and not the values of the PR profession.

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