This headline from Bloomberg showed up in my Twitter feed yesterday (h/t Dorothy Crenshaw):
Let’s start with the headline, which is technically accurate. The PR industry is healthy, and newspapers aren’t. Yet, throwing in Warren Buffett’s name as click bait makes it sound like Buffett is correlating the demise of newspapers to the PR industry when he never uttered a single word about PR.
In fact, if Bloomberg had done its homework, it would have discovered that Buffett has actually been a long-term bull on the PR industry buying Business Wire back in 2006.
Every time the U.S. Census Bureau updates its numbers on job growth in the U.S., you can count on at least one publication to brainstorm the “fresh” story angle, PR is killing journalism.
The State of the Media from Pew Research has been making the same case for years as reflected in its 2013 report:
“In 2012, a continued erosion of news reporting resources converged with growing opportunities for those in politics, government agencies, companies and others to take their messages directly to the public.”
Can you imagine? The nerve of these organizations to communicate directly to their target audiences.
Fast-forwarding to today, we discover that there are now 6.4 public relations specialists for every news reporter. This stat triggers the lament:
“… It’s no wonder that some writers say they are bombarded daily by story pitches. Some have taken to Twitter to complain about the most egregious phone calls and emails.”
I pitched a journalist for the first time in 1983. Even back then, journalists complained about PR not doing its homework and mass blasting pitches with zero relevance to their readers. Some of these complaints were justified. Like all professions, a percent of those in PR underperform. This dynamic has nothing to do with the number of jobs in PR and the number of jobs in journalism. It turns out that a percent of journalists underperform as well.
Since Craigslist eviscerated the classified ads business in newspapers, journalists have been writing the “poor me” story. At some point, it became fashionable for these “poor me” stories to blame the PR industry for journalism’s shrinking job pool.
In fact, Pew took this a step further and put out the piece, “The Growing Pay Gap Between Journalism and Public Relations,” which highlighted the pay disparity between the two professions.
Good grief — this is like pointing out the compensation difference between the person who cooks at Chipotle and the person who cooks at The French Laundry. Sure, both professions share some basic skills, but they’re distinctively different jobs with the wonders of capitalism placing more value on one over the other. BTW, I’m not insinuating that journalists are the “fast-food cooks” of communications.
Contrary to my jabs at the fourth estate, I’m sympathetic to the plight of journalists. While my career as a reporter barely exceeded the shelf life of iceberg lettuce in the fridge — three months at a bilingual newspaper called the El Independiente — I want the business of journalism to succeed. Beyond the good for society arguments, the stack on my nightstand reveals a selfish motive. The best non-fiction storytelling on the planet comes from journalists.
I understand that journalists are frustrated, angry and sometimes bitter after losing a job and hearing from colleagues out of work. I can even understand the narrative that blames the PR industry. Identifying a scapegoat can prove to be a cathartic exercise.
Still, stories like the recent one in Bloomberg miss the mark. I collect these missives with one of my favorites being from The Washington Post a few years back, “Why the PR Industry Is Sucking Up Pulitzer Winners.”
Jim Tankersley complains that that outside of Los Angeles, NY and Washington D.C., 25% of reporting jobs in the U.S. have disappeared over the past 10 years, while the PR industry has added 20,000 to its ranks during the same period and geography.
To accentuate the point, we find the paper putting its data visualization talent to good use with this “insightful” chart.
I suppose Jim is expecting the gap in jobs between PR and journalism to cause the reader to gasp in horror.
Only there’s a couple of not-so-little flaws with this argument.
If we examine the job growth for the two professions during preceding eight-year period from 1997 to 2004 (Occupational Employment and Wages data which only goes back to ’97) a different picture takes shape.
Reviewing this 18-year runway doesn’t show PR is taking “oxygen” from journalism. Instead, the data reveals PR as a growth industry and journalism as a stagnant industry, not exactly a news flash.
I’ve said my piece … until the U.S. Census Bureau releases new numbers.