PR Ethics
A tale of two layoffs

Bad for business

Rip journalismThe CareerCast web site lists "newspaper reporter" as the second worst career to pursue in its 2014 report. That's just ahead of lumberjack, which ranked 200.

Ironically, there's a connection between the two. Newspapers are closing left and right, meaning the industry needs fewer reporters -- and newsprint, which is produced from the wood pulp in the trees lumberjacks fell. All in all, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates a 9% drop in logging positions by 2022, and a 13% decline in reporters.

At the other end of the scale, among the fastest growing jobs, is public relations. Some estimate it's will grow 12% over the next decade. In other words, PR will grow by about as much as journalism declines. 

The disparity in this ratio concerns me, even though I spent virtually my entire career in PR (not counting the summer I wrote feature articles for the Suburban Press and Recorder in Natick, Mass.).

Here's why:

  • When I worked for AT&T, the best coverage we got was from the smartest reporters for the best newspapers. We didn't always like it, but it was intelligent, logical, and fair. When we had news, they helped spread it. And when those reporters compared us to the competition, we usually came out on top. No one could snow them. From what I hear, the average reporter covering business these days is much younger, much less experienced, and stretched thinner than the elastic in Chris Christie's underwear.
  • Trust in the media has never been lower. But it can get to even scarier depths if what passes as news on the Internet gains much more traction. Part of the problem is that online no one knows you live in your mother's basement and get most of your scoops from the signals your aluminum foil hat picks up.
  • Some people think brand journalism can fill the gap. Talking directly to your customers is certainly important. But just as we need a healthy journalistic community to keep our politicians honest, the business community will be better off if its policies and practices are occasionally reviewed by intelligent reporters with no axe to grind. 
  • Finally, it's true that all these new PR people won't be in media relations. PR covers a wide range of activities -- e.g., employee communications, community relations, speechwriting, philanthropy, etc. And it's also true that any PR person who makes it harder for a journalist to do his job doesn't really understand PR. But that's exactly what a lot of journalists are complaining about. I don't think it will get better when there are fewer reporters and more PR people.




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