There’s only one problem. He seems poised to start the makings of a promising journalism career on the wrong side of the divide.
So as not to compromise his identity and incur the possible ire of his protective aunt, who’s a dear friend of mine, let’s just call him Pete.
I have yet to see any of his written works, but if I am to go by his aunt’s words, Pete can write. He also happens to be quite smart, inquisitive and is able to hold his own in conversations with people more than twice his age (read: guys like me). In short, he has the makings of a good journalist.
His aunt also shared that Pete, who loves to travel, wants to try his hand at feature writing, especially long, experiential-type travel pieces.
Not in a newspaper
But when I got to talk to him while his cranky and famish aunt (who again skipped lunch perhaps in a futile attempt to loose weight) trooped to the buffet line, I learned that the boy, a senior communication arts student this coming June, chose to do his practicum not in a newspaper or TV network. Instead, he will soon be doing his OJT in a reputable public relations firm in Metro Manila.
I don’t know exactly what influenced him to embark on such a decision, but I can’t help but feel sad and surprised that he prioritized one field, which is PR, over another—a field, which I, a journalist, belong to.
Although both fields require a fair amount of creativity, presence of mind and above average writing and people’s skills, their goals couldn’t have been more different from each other. While journalism, the genuine and unadulterated kind, seeks to uncover and highlight the truth, PR tends to sugarcoat and even downplay and obfuscate it in order to sell products, services, people and even ideas.
I’m not saying that PR is bad per se compared to journalism, but a lot of people, even supposed media practitioners in the Philippines, can’t seem to tell the two apart. Or, if they know it, they deliberately blur the lines, often at the expense of journalism, in order to get their agendas across.
Out on a limb
I’m going out on a limb here, as I personally know quite a number of people (some of them are even my friends), who do PR work, either full time or part time, while working as media practitioners. Like extremist members of two opposing religions, the two disciplines can’t and will never mix without inflicting some degree of damage on each other. And usually, the journalism profession is at the receiving end.
And that damage can also cut across all sections of the newspaper—from the front to the lifestyle pages, sports to the business sections, etc. (For purposes of argument, I will focus on newspapers where I belong.)
Because of the nature of his work, the only fellow who’d come out of this strange, but certainly not unusual arrangement (at least in the Philippines) with his dignity and credibility intact is the newspaper’s supplement or advertorial writer.
Once a journalist does PR work, even on a so-called per project basis to promote, say, a line of beauty products or improve the chances of a certain politician to get elected, chances are he will never be able to think straight, as he’s now torn between advancing his client’s interest and that of his paper. It’s simply the nature of PR.
It’s not uncommon for veteran journalists to shift gears and become PR practitioners themselves later in life. There’s nothing wrong with that. Since not a few of these guys are consummate communicators who know how a fellow journalist thinks and gets drawn to a particular story, former journalists can indeed be very effective publicists.
But once they’ve crossed the line and joined the other side, they should stay there and not dabble as reporters and editors, let alone columnists. Doing so is a clear case of conflict of interest.
That’s why you can’t blame me for feeling leery at the practice of some newspapers and magazines to get columnists from various fields, especially those into PR, events (“eventology,” anyone?) and talent management.
Some of them may write damn well and know the ins and outs of a particular industry or scene, but their very involvement as principal players of specific sectors they represent as contributing journalists makes their every article suspect.
There was a time when these people, especially those in the lifestyle and entertainment fields, were the go-to guys of reporters for much needed insights and quotable quotes on raging trends and issues. Even if they’re not the subjects of the stories themselves, these famous and influential people could help you produce a good story by virtue of their reputation and what they said or didn’t say.
Columnists at every corner
But somewhere along the way, not too long ago, actually, certain editors, in order perhaps to jump the gun at the competition and quickly fill out numerous newspaper pages littered with all sorts of ads, started hiring these news sources and talking heads as columnists and even contributing editors themselves. And Philippine journalism was never the same again. Sigh.
Well, going back to Pete, I can’t seem to understand the boy’s motivation for prioritizing PR over journalism when he seems to be acing all kinds of requirements and training opportunities meant for students with their eyes set on becoming good journalists someday.
I mean, why subject yourself to so much trouble when you can simply take up, say, marketing or an out and out PR course (certain schools, I learned only recently, offer it) to prepare yourself for a career in public relations?
Unless Pete’s primary motivation is money, then I rest my case. Journalism may open all sorts of doors for you, including access to the boudoirs of the rich and famous, but it can never hope to match the fat bank account and lavish lifestyle afforded to you by a thriving PR practice.
But being a great PR, let alone a competent and decent one, also requires a huge amount of talent, discipline and empathy as well as all sorts of skills, which, like in journalism, aren’t normally taught in school. Like in any discipline, PR also has its own set of ethics. Now, that’s one subject best left for a future entry.