leslie_roberts.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterboxFor those working in journalism, the leap to PR doesn’t seem like a big jump, since it’s the reverse side of the same coin, it’s still writing and storytelling, and many skills do transfer to PR. I know many ex-journalists who have crossed over, and many still in journalism eyeing the other side for future employment as mainstream media continues to downsize.

And many people today have more than one job. “Moonlighting” used to be a bad thing, but these days having more than one occupation shows our diversity, our entrepreneurship, or maybe just our need to pay the bills, and it’s generally not frowned upon unless there’s a conflict of interest.

Ah, there’s the rub. You can work for two different entities, but not if they’re competitors, or if the goals of one cross into the goals of the other. And when one of the hats you wear is being a journalist, moonlighting in PR can be a big problem, or at least be perceived to be a big problem.

So perhaps its not terribly surprising that journalists have gotten into some hot water recently when they were accused of dipping their toes into the PR market while still working for mainstream media.

Let’s look at Leslie Roberts, lost his on-air job at Global TV after the Toronto Star outed him for owning part of a PR agency whose clients were often given airtime. He thought he could work in PR and journalism at the same time, as long as he didn’t personally pitch stories to his network. Hmmm…

The Toronto Star (they do seem to be breaking a lot stories lately about media people messing up) found out that Roberts, who hosted Global’s News Hour and the Morning Show, and was the executive editor of Global News, owned part of BuzzPR, a Toronto PR agency. Their story points out numerous examples of Buzz clients being interviewed on Global, and even of Roberts himself plugging some Buzz clients.

Global apparently hadn’t known about Robert’s stake in a PR agency, and suspended him right away. The Star interviewed Roberts before his suspension, and he said he had done nothing wrong but would resign from BuzzPR, the public relations firm he owns with a partner.

“Roberts said his involvement in BuzzPR never interfered with his work as a newsman. He initially dismissed the PR work as similar to other jobs he has had in the field of journalism. “I am not a one-trick pony. I have always done freelance work.””

A week later, he quit the network. A former journalist, Tony Burman, said that there was probably no other way out.

“Mr. Roberts’s suspension should be “a warning bell too all news organizations” about a gradual “blurring of the line between journalism and PR…no amount of disclosure would make Mr. Roberts’s dual role acceptable.”

Other journalists and PR folk were appalled at the situation. And Global TV took a lot of heat for letting it happen.

tweet iaintweet 2Moonlighting may be okay for many industries, but there are lines you just don’t cross when it comes to mainstream media. PR people can’t pay reporters to write about their clients, and double dipping into PR while still in journalism is just not on, at least not as long as you still work for mainstream media.

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