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.
Before jumping into the latest “poor me” piece in The Washington Post, the Pew Research Center delivers a good backdrop for the issue.
You can see this mentality implied in the introduction to the 2013 State of the Media from Pew reflecting on the previous year.
“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.
And last year Pew put out the piece “The Growing Pay Gap Between Journalism and Public Relations” with number crunching that highlighted the pay disparity between the two professions.
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 stills, 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 periodic barbs aimed at the fourth estate, I’m sympathetic to the plight of journalists. While my career as a reporter barely exceeded the shelf life of a hardy carrot in the fridge — a few months at 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.
With that said, I understand why journalists feel compelled to write these “poor me” stories. They’re frustrated, angry and sometimes bitter after losing a job and/or seeing 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, when I read The Washington Post story “Why the PR Industry Is Sucking Up Pulitzer Winners” my immediate reaction was WTH (the other acronym would jeopardize the blog’s PG rating).
The story from Jim Tankersley laments the fact that outside of Los Angeles, NY and Washington D.C., 25 percent 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, perhaps uttering words along the lines of “I can’t believe the PR industry has the audacity to hurt defenseless journalists.”
Only there’s a couple of not-so-little flaws with this argument.
Let’s 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) in the chart below. Like Washpo, we also benefit from data visualization talent.
Reviewing this 18-year runway doesn’t show PR is taking “oxygen” from journalism. Instead, the data simply reveals PR as a growth industry and journalism as a stagnant industry. Now, there’s a news flash!
And stories like two Pulitzer prize-winning journalists jumping ship make for good anecdotes, but that’s all they are. Good anecdotes.
Plus, journalists and their publishers are hardly helpless. As a collective institution, their resistance to change and denial of digital media for so many years only prolonged the pain. Thankfully, we’re seeing new models and experiments on how to monetize journalism that bodes well for the future.
Will the world of journalism be like the “good ole days” ever again?
Of course not. All professions or least those professions still on the board — try finding a travel agent — must keep evolving.
As part of this changing world, today’s journalists have responsibility to promote their stories, which Jim dutifully does to the tune of six tweets within a two-hour period, two linking to his story.
It’s somewhat ironic that this type of promotional splurge would cause a PR intern to be chastised with a “less is more” lecture.
But that’s a story for another time.