There has been a lot of venom shot over these past couple of weeks about that rotten menace Facebook. From nightmares on the PR front over chief Zuckerberg’s embarrassing (non)reaction to the latest Russian election tension to public outrage about the extent to which the platform reaches deep into our lives to scrape our data and humanity, it’s nice for those of us who work in news and have been beaten into social media submission to see there may be some light in this dark basement after all.
All that vitriol is fine and well-deserved. But if you think that Facebook is the leading culprit in the case of Who Killed Journalism?, then I may just know a Russian bot or two who’s in the process of selling your digits off to dogs.
So, who is to blame? As I wrote in a piece titled “A Publicist Shaming” last year, to the consternation of more than a few leeches among us, if we’re talking about money leaving journalism and enriching undeserving interlopers, we have to skewer and acknowledge those who fall under the publicist and media relations umbrella.
For those who don’t receive a hundred thousand painfully unlettered press releases every week as I do, here is how the process often goes behind the scenes, at least on the local level: 1 – A publicist approaches business owners who know very little about how the media world spins, and promises said client to get them good coverage in the brightest outlets; 2 – Business owners then hand over several thousand bucks a month, much of which formerly went to the publications and stations that the publicist said they can woo; 3 – Depending on the connections and skill of the publicist, they will succeed to some arbitrary degree in their mission to get the business some ink, whether in their own words via outlets that do zero diligence and reprint press releases, or through any number of other compromised avenues, from brute force on whatever platform’s hopping to the dreaded sponsored post or advertorial.
I’m sure that I don’t need to say this, but if you’re a business owner and you’re reading this, please know without any doubt that any publicist who claims to have an in with me or anybody on my team is full of shit. Do some of us have friends who work in media relations? Sure. But nine times out of 10, unless they have something that we would cover anyway, they leave my ass alone because they know that I will bark at them. (On a side note, props to those who have been less than greedy, and who direct their clients to place ads with us in addition to using their services. We’re a small paper, ads are reasonably priced, and everyone can win here.)
Listen, I’m not being unreasonable. The fact is there are very few independent outlets left kicking ass out here, and we are pretty damn unique in both the readers we attract and in the nature of our coverage, from investigations to the arts. Things are stable at the Dig for the first time in years, in part thanks to ads stemming from cannabis legalization. We also started a nonprofit, the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, to help with heavy lifting, and that’s been instrumental in our march through trying times, but it’s nevertheless going to take more than donations from the public to keep engines like ours burning. Until we start getting more inquiries from businesses that want to advertise than we get emails from the publicists they hire to scam journalists with cheap shit like free beer and gift bags that don’t pay the bills, this problem will persist. As will my ranting. I promise.