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Thursday

19

February 2015

"You Know, I Used To Be A Journalist"

by Conrad Updog

One of the great jedi mind tricks of the seasoned PR veteran is to lean over to a reporter and whisper, ever so softly, "you know ... I used to be a journalist."

It is a statement that all reporters-cum-flacks have deployed at one time or another, and it can be strikingly disarming.

What it says is this: "You can trust me. I know what you're going through. I may be employed for the sole purpose of protecting the reputation of an unfeeling multi-national corporation, but really, I'm on your side."

Of course, they are not. Not really, anyway.

The subtext is that the savvy PR pro is establishing themselves as an expert on the journalist's job, giving them the credibility they will need later to push back when they feel a story has been "unfair" to their client (i.e. it is negative in any way) and to tug at the heartstrings of their newfound comrade-in-arms.

It's a doubly smart move given that once the journalist gets old and tired and wants to start a family, they'll want as many PR pals as possible to help pull them across the line to a career of comfort and security.

We certainly don't fault ex-journos for making the jump; life is hard, and it's not like writing about startups is doing much to aid humanity, anyway. But for fuck's sake, cut it out with this "I'm still a journalist at heart" bullshit. Everyone knows who is signing the checks.

A particularly egregious example of this mindset appeared on PR Daily yesterday, in the form of an, um, tribute? to the late Hunter S. Thompson entitled, "4 pieces of PR wisdom from Hunter S. Thompson."

The article was penned by a former Rocky Mountain News reporter named Gil Rudawsky who knew Thompson from his days living in Aspen.

The list is mostly advice for journalists that is extended to PR people because I guess Rudawsky hasn't fully internalized the fact that what he does for a living now is pretty much the opposite of journalism. Which is fair, I think. If I had received wisdom from Hunter S. Thompson as a young journo, I probably would feel shitty about running a PR firm, too.

It is pretty laughable to think that a dude whose entire deal was that he took his own angle on everything he covered would want to be associated with an industry whose primary goal is to get journalists to write the party line every time out. The sort of generic, pack journalism that is a PR pro's wet dream was the reason "Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail '72" needed to exist as an exposé.

The silliest piece of advice Rudawsky gives is the idea that "You work for your audience, not your boss," which I guess is maybe true for journalists but is not at all true for PR people, whose boss is very clearly the company they are paid to represent. Like it's hard to get impressions by completely and totally lying, but if you are working with the idea that you are serving readers, you're probably doing a disservice to your clients.

The other eyebrow-raising claim is that PR folks should "fight convention" like Thompson did.

"He never took the party line, and if he did, it was because that's where his true beliefs were," Rudawsky writes. "It gets back to following what you believe or what you know, not what is expected or safe. Your audience, and hopefully your client, will appreciate the approach."

A show of hands please from everyone whose clients are looking for them to embrace the unsafe and buck the party line.

That's what I thought.

Conrad Updog

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