Switching sides - Page 2

Local newspaper shake-ups are leading former journos to the dark side of media relations

And former Chronicle City Hall reporter Charlie Goodyear is now working for the high-powered SF flack firm Singer Associates.

Newspaper giant MediaNews set the trend this year for pushing career journalists into public relations. The company laid off scores of people after it purchased several newspapers in the Bay Area, including the Sentinel, the CoCo Times, and the Mercury News. But other Bay Area newsrooms, including the Hearst Corp.–owned Chronicle, today have literally half the staff they had just a few short years ago.

Lopez previously worked for Singleton's flagship paper, the Denver Post, which he helped earn a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the Columbine shootings. Columnist Charles Ashby of the Post's rival Pueblo Chieftain pointed out Dec. 10 that two more former Post staffers are now working as press secretaries for Colorado governor Bill Ritter and reporters from other large Colorado papers are today handling public relations for the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce and the University of Colorado.

Gene Rose of the National Association of Government Communicators insists citizens are better served by bureaucracies that contain former reporters.

"With the shrinking news hole and with less reporters to cover news, agencies and governments are being forced to figure out ways to communicate more directly with people one-on-one," Rose, also a former reporter, said.

The interim dean of the University of California at Berkeley's journalism school, Neil Henry, documented the phenomenal rise of public relations in this year's book American Carnival: Journalism Under Siege in an Age of New Media (University of California Press). In particular, he notes, TV news organizations have grown increasingly reliant on polished video news releases produced by flacks, which sometimes air verbatim, as opposed to expending their own dwindling newsroom resources. The VNRs, as they're called, give "coverage" of a product or idea the veneer of journalistic credibility, when in fact they've been created by professional manipulators.

"For the concerned citizen and certainly for the dedicated American journalist, it is horrifying to see how significantly business and political advertising has compromised the mission of the news industry, at times with the industry's full participation," Henry writes.

He adds that in 2004, New Mexico governor Bill Richardson lured more than 20 journalists, including some of the state's best, into his administration with the promise of good pay.

So who else in the Bay Area plans to depart for the dark side? No comment.

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