Journalism, PR, and personality

29 05 2009

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about communications and temperament or personality.

I think I entered public relations toward the end of the era of the traditional career path, when most practitioners had backgrounds in journalism. The profession valued this experience both for the skills one developed in processing information and writing, and because of the relationships one had developed with other journalists. We knew how the media worked, what it valued and demanded, and could provide value and speak the language.

Nearly everyone at Fleishman-Hillard in 1996 had a journalism background, it seemed to me. But that started to change soon afterward. More and more new hires had started directly  in PR or marketing. Their educational backgrounds focused more on business than liberal arts. Many answered the question, “Why do you want to work here,” with the increasingly grating cliche, “I’m a people person.”

Sure, they may have lacked high-level writing skills, but they made up for that with the energy and fresh outlook that was rare among former journalists.

I first learned about the Myers-Briggs personality spectrum well after I had embarked on my journalism career. I was tickled to learn that I was an ISTJ, variously labeled as Examiner, Inspector, Custodian, Reliant, etc. The ISTJ’s reputed “just the facts” personality and tendency toward a rational outlook, value of balance, and sense of fairness seemed ideal for my chosen profession.

But what is the ideal personality for PR? One leaps to assume it involves extroversion. Intuiting seems likely. Feeling over thinking? Perhaps. Perceiving over judging? That seems a good fit, too.

In other words, the opposite of an ISTJ. If you look up ENFP, you find that they are “people people.”

They can be intellectual, serious, all business for a while, but whenever they get the chance, they flip that switch and become CAPTAIN WILDCHILD, the scourge of the swimming pool, ticklers par excellence. 

That sounds like a lot of PR folks I know.

What to make of this? Because I’m now in PR, I take comfort in reading that exact opposites on the M-B scale are highly compatible. I know I have worked very well with some, including my wife. I can recall pitch meetings where the extroverts on our team were going strong, but when I could get a word in, the client seemed to pay extra heed. Maybe it’s reassuring in a room full of people people to hear from a “just the facts” sort.

I’ll try to reassure myself with that thought as I pursue the next chapter in my communications career.

Walter Pincus: More than economics behind newspapers’ decline

7 05 2009

pincusWashington Post veteran Walter Pincus writes in the Columbia Journalism Review: “Newspaper Narcissism … Our pursuit of glory led us away from readers.”

Editors have paid more attention to what gains them prestige among their journalistic peers than on subjects more related to the everyday lives of readers. …

We have also failed our readers in the way we cover government. The First Amendment not only guaranteed freedom of the press from government interference, it also gave American journalists the opportunity—I believe the responsibility—to find and present facts on issues that require public attention. Our press is not protected in order to merely echo the views of government officials, opposition politicians, and so-called experts. …

Meanwhile, we have turned into a public-relations society. Much of the news Americans get each day was created to serve just that purpose—to be the news of the day. Many of our headlines come from events created by public relations—press conferences, speeches, press releases, canned reports, and, worst of all, snappy comments by “spokesmen” or “experts.” To serve as a counterpoint, we need reporters with expertise. …

[Americans] should remember that “newsmakers” are intent on using the media to influence readers, listeners, and viewers to take up their ideas. The electronic and print media today probably have more power over public opinion—and thus government—than they had fifty years ago. But I fear they turn much of that power over to those who create news events to get coverage.

Pincus’ conclusion, that “the press should play an activist role,” is beyond dispute. The question is how, and that gets us back to economics. Money-losing newspapers slash news staff, depriving themselves of the “expertise” he cries for. Absent that, they rely more and more on PR-generated content. An activist press staffed by expert reporters qualified to make independent judgments (as opposed to he said/she said journalism) requires a long-term commitment and investment of resources. Who’s going to do that these days?

The full article also is worth reading for Pincus’ take on prize-seeking  journalism and its disservice to readers. It’s true that over the past decade, there have been some high-quality, enterprising, investigative projects by newspapers. The Post‘s investigation of Walter Reed Medical Center comes to mind. However, newspapers too frequently package these as one-edition blockbusters, with a volume that few readers penetrate. Almost no newspapers pursue the ongoing investigations with day-by-day findings, like the Post‘s Watergate project, which Pincus justifiably cites as the high-point of  journalism. Remember, most installments of that series were digestible pieces, with the day’s news sitting atop a background wrapup of “A-copy.” It required an investment of no more than a few minutes each day to keep up.

Hat tip to F Matthew Frederick