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Journalism’s brain drain: Hello, PR

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Q: What do talented, credible print journalists with a decade or two of experience do as they perceive the news biz crumbling around them?

A: They take PR jobs.

That’s the (not surprising) revelation in The Strategist, a journal of the Public Relations Society of America.

That’s what Baltimore Sun business reporter and columnist Bill Atkinson did, according to Strategist editor Alison Stateman. He passed up a job with the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel to take a PR position. Said Atkinson:

The news business is a tough business. It wasn’t as romantic as it once was. It wasn’t as fun and exciting as it once was for me, which was very sad. Newsrooms are a tough place to work. Corporations have to make their quarterly numbers. The shareholder comes first, and as a result, there’s more pressure on the bottom line. The Sun, where I worked, is a really good paper, but they feel the pressure.

He got out just in time. The Sun announced a voluntary buyout in November to try to cut 75 jobs to lower payroll, one of newspapers’ largest expenses.

This defection of skilled reporters for PR is good news for that industry. It’s getting well-trained people who know how to get information quickly, analyze it thoroughly and present it compellingly.

And it’s good news for newspaper owners and investors. For every veteran reporter like Atkinson who leaves a newspaper (at the high end of Newspaper Guild wages and benefits), the paper can bring on board a young cub just out of college who’s willing to work for peanuts just to get a foot in the door of the “glamorous” world of print journalism. That reduces newspaper costs and enhances profitability.

And the losers?

The public. As newspapers lose skilled reporters and editors, the public loses its ability to hold government (and corporations, a government unto themselves) accountable. Journalism is about finding information and telling people what that information is and what it means to them. If inexperienced reporters are trying do do that, it just won’t be done as effectively.

As newspapers become, in a sense, de-skilled, the miscreants who govern our political and consumer choices become more powerful.

And that’s depressing.

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Written by Dr. Denny Wilkins

February 28, 2006 at 12:12 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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