|August 6, 2009|
|A Revolving PR Door Makes a News Mess|
|By Greg Hazley|
|Journalism-to-PR is a common refrain these days as disintegrating news budgets push reporters to the "other side." It's good for PR, which is enriched by the knowledge and experience reporters bring to account work and strategy. And it's even good for journalism, as reporters interact with savvier PR pros who have been in their shoes.|
But when the lines between the two interlocked fields blur, both sides look ridiculous.
MSNBC said yesterday that it made a mistake and will now identify talking head Richard Wolffe’s affiliation with PR firm Public Strategies Inc. after a flurry of criticism online.
Salon’s Glenn Greenwald raised a red flag on Aug. 1 noting that former Newsweek reporter Wolffe took over Keith Olbernann’s MSNBC show, “Countdown,” while the host was on vacation and regularly appears on the network as a political analyst.
“Having Richard Wolffe host an MSNBC program -- or serving as an almost daily ‘political analyst’ -- is exactly tantamount to MSNBC’s just turning over an hour every night to a corporate lobbyist.” He continued: “Wolffe's role in life is to advance the P.R. interests of the corporations that pay him, including corporations with substantial interests in virtually every political issue that MSNBC and Countdown cover.”
Gawker.com whacked MSNBC as the “place for publicists” on Aug. 3 and accused Wolffe of favoring healthcare reform on air while Public Strategies has clients on that side of the debate.
Meanwhile, Olbermann has returned from vacation and in a post to DailyKos said that the ordeal had caught him “flat-footed.”
“I do not know what the truth is; my executive producer and I have spent the last two months dealing with other things (see above) but what appears to be the truth here is certainly not what Richard told us about his non-news job,” he said.
The PR field is a better place for the influx of journalists over the last few years. But reporters who don’t want to let go of their former lives can’t straddle the lines between the two worlds without making a mess of objectivity and bringing down a curse upon both houses.
It's interesting that much of this debate came to light after a New York Times piece on Sunday about attempts to defuse the ongoing, on-air war between Olbermann and Fox News' Bill O'Reilly. Brian Stelter reported that the networks suits had enough of the cable news bloodsport and worked out a truce -- a sad compromise among news organizations and opinion makers.
It seems that everyone would be better off if journalists change the locks on newsrooms to keep their corporate bosses and former colleagues out.
(Image via gogreenblog)
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