A lot has changed over the past three decades in journalism. And while change is often inevitable to the process—especially in an age of social media and digital publishing of all types—that doesn’t mean many of the core principles inherent to maintaining good communication standards needs to also be sacrificed.
So, yesterday I was involved in a lively discussion with a Public Relations person who was trying to educate me on the process of how things currently work. The crux of their message was if you want to experience increased opportunity and access playing the role of a media person it requires said media person to get “cozy” with the industry you are trying to cover as a journalist.
Since when did it become an acceptable practice for journalists of any type to have such close ties to the industry they strive to professionally cover without being tainted by conflicting interests? In fact, it used to be if a writer had any prior connection whatsoever with the subject matter of the story it needed to be open and notorious with the extent of the relationship fully disclosed to the readers.
Apparently that type of thinking has become old school. Yet, I strongly disagree with this apparent trend.
A couple years back I was involved in discussions with an outdoor news outlet who wanted me to become a staff writer for them. We were all excited about the possibilities the new relationship held until we suddenly encountered an unforeseen snag.
I was told as a writer from time to time I would be expected to do product evaluations. The editor would choose the product and I could write about some new outdoor gadget and brag it up. I asked…well, what if I don’t find value in the product to write a good review? I was specifically instructed how that was not an option as I had to speak positive of the product because they also would be one of the publication’s advertisers.
At that point the mood of the conversation suddenly changed. I said no…this won’t work. I cannot in good conscience write about any product or topic that I do not personally believe in. I will not lie to myself or to my readers. When I sign my name to an article or a blog post it has to be genuine and completely true in all details to the best of my ability. That’s how I was taught and I won’t sell my soul to the devil just to make some quick cash.
And so it apparently is with outdoors writing in this 21st Century communication world. There seems to be an affinity towards such a “cozy” relationship with some manufacturers that eventually the writer simply becomes a pro-staffer, and that’s perfectly fine as long as its disclosed and all appearances of true journalistic standards are set aside by said disclosure.
My point is if you want to call yourself an outdoors writer in the truest journalistic sense then you must strive to only have your reader’s best interests in mind. When you start getting “cozy” with manufacturers and others in your story then the writer runs the risk of sliding down a dangerous literary slope.
When I do a product test and evaluation the manufacturer knows it will be honest. When I want to connect with industry folks it will not be with special conditions and prior approvals. Nope, for anyone to even hint at the notion I better start getting “cozy” with the product sellers of my industry in order to succeed as a writer, in my opinion, has very devilish intents.
©2014 Jim Braaten. All Rights Reserved. No Reproduction without Prior Permission.