Who is that Masked Writer? The Disappearing Professional Journalist

Thank you Internet and social media for turning the world of media relations on its ear in the last five years. It was time for such a communications upheaval. It is creative and exhilarating.

But, this revolution has not been without consequences. And, we have seen something new emerge, which has us a little perplexed and unsure of how we should feel about it.

First, know that we are unafraid of new trends (we’ve seen quite a few come and go). You could say we are “well-seasoned.” Four Leaf is comprised of PR professionals who have all used a typewriter for work (not at a museum just to see what it feels like), can recall when a two day turnaround at a mail house was considered fast, and can tell you what a color separator used to do.

We have watched the world go from a one way street where you could only go 35 miles an hour to an information superhighway (remember that phrase?) where you have to go the speed of light just to be seen or heard.  You could say the world has grown into Audrey, the flesh-eating Venus flytrap from the Little Shop of Horrors, crying out Feed me! Yet while the world’s insatiable appetite for information, entertainment and material has grown, one little wrinkle formed: not enough people to fill the content hole.

In fact, today’s media outlets are so hungry for content that we hear more questions more than answers to our media pitches. We used to  hear, I liked the idea. Let me get back to you after I’ve talked with my editor. Today, we most often hear, Sounds great. Can you produce a 1,000 word article on that topic for us?  

But, that’s not the trend we’re noting today that has us scratching our heads. It’s this: we have seen an increasing number of “journalists” who, well, aren’t. They aren’t even close. These writers, who clearly have good backgrounds in their topic, come from anywhere: from non-media companies, from non-profits boards, from the blogosphere, from twitter (because they were prolific there?), from PR firms.

The surprising part of this is that we didn’t know they weren’t a card-carrying journalist until we did some digging. It wasn’t apparent that these were not “media people.” They were hired to write. There is a difference. Journalists aren’t supposed to have an agenda except to write an unbiased account of what happened. Writers from a non-media source can cross the opinion line.

We’ve run into writers for Forbes, CNN, Psychology Today and more who own PR firms, are book authors, or own software companies and other non-media businesses. Hiring writers from non-media sources is not uncommon. But, the fact it’s not transparent that they aren’t on the media’s payroll is what has us wondering what has happened.

Have you noticed this? What do you think of this trend? Smart and savvy? Or, dishonest and scary?