Some of my best friends are in the public relations business, and they tell me they are inundated with calls from journalists looking to escape our profession before it dies, as opposed to after it dies. (For the record, I think The Atlantic, a mighty ship of journalism, not only won't sink, but will master the waves, and there's even evidence available to back-up this assertion.)
The latest escapee, Michael Calderone reports in Politico, is Jeffrey Birnbaum, who is leaving The Washington Times (but who isn't?) to head up a firm started by Haley Barbour. Birnbaum made his name covering lobbyists; now he'll be working for them. If I were younger, and if we lived in a different age, I might feel slightly condemnatory, but this is the world we live in. All this gyrating does raise a couple of questions, though: Can journalists turn themselves into skilled flacks? And, if all the journalists become flacks, who will the flacks flack to?
The answer to the second question is easy -- they'll flack to underpaid, undertrained bloggers. For an answer to the first question, I turned to my friend Richard Mintz, who owns the Harbour Group, a public relations firm in Washington. He, too, is seeing a rise in queries from stressed-out reporters, but he was not entirely positive about their utility. "Journalists by their nature don't make great advocates or public relations people because they're trained to be objective rather than to take sides," he said. "They also tend to work alone, and they have no business experience." Other than that, of course, hacks make excellent flacks.