Media Moves

Frankie Flack: Who’s spinning now?

August 11, 2014

Posted by Frankie Flack

This morning, the fine folks at the Pew Research Center put up a blog post that should serve as red meat to every ink-stained wretch who likes to rail against the idea that he’s battling poverty while us flacks are living like kings.

The post is titled “The growing pay gap between journalism and public relations,” and it cites University of Georgia stats to support the headline. In 2004, folks on my team out-earned you guys by about $12,500. By 2013, that gap was up to $19K and change. Outrageous, right?

Hardly. During the nine years between 2004 and 2013 — nine years that were absolutely brutal for the economics of journalism — the median salary for journalists rose 13 percent (none of these numbers were adjusted for inflation, so, as with all stats, please use caution). Now, that’s not an outrageous leap, but if you believe those numbers, life for journalists isn’t quickly descending into some Hobbsian nightmare.

And if you don’t believe those numbers, please don’t complain about how the pay gap between PR and journalism is growing.

While I’m beating this dead horse, it’s worth a reminder that, contrary to what most journalists seem to assume, PR and media are totally different occupations. Many of the same skills are required, but continually comparing the two is an empty exercise. I have colleagues who program computers, who design webpages, who channel Don Draper for brand catchphrases. And they all for in “PR.” It’s actually a relatively small percentage of us who work with the media.

Complaining about the low pay of journalism by comparing it to PR is an empty exercise. That’s not to say that reporters shouldn’t make more, given the value they bring to society. But other than getting everyone’s dander up, I don’t see the point of decrying some sort of widening gap in hack vs. flack pay (why not compare it to what recruiters make? Or teachers? Or mad men?). It just distracts from the fundamental problem of the crumbling economics of a large part of the new biz.

I’m not denying the truth that you guys deserve to make more given your value to society, and we (perhaps) deserve less (along with the investment guys, marketers, real estate developers, lawyers, insurance salesmen, and 90 percent of the rest of the white-collar workplace).

But if you want to make that case, make it on the merits, not but trumping up some silly comparison.

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