Monday, October 17, 2016

Hostile Takeover: Evaluating the Future of Newsrooms and their Employees

Victoria Souza

Hostile Takeover: Evaluating the Future of Newsrooms and their Employees

“Corporate takeover” is not necessarily a welcome phrase… neither to newsrooms nor to consumers. When news organizations create and promote sponsored content without acknowledging that it is sponsored, they tend to lose public trust. From a personal standpoint, nothing is worse than reading sponsored content and realizing it has an angle but finding no credit to the sponsor provided. Viewing this no longer as simply a consumer, but a potential future employee of a news organization, this corporate takeover is terrifying. The dramatic decline of journalists being hired by companies compared to PR employees is alarming. As an aspiring political journalist, I constantly have to be thinking about what will set me apart from other applicants. Now it may not even be my degree that will get me through the door of a news organization. Without a PR edge, companies are viewing journalists as less valuable. There is no denying that this sponsored content wave is influencing the future of journalism, and, to traditional journalists, this must be a serious wake up call. PR employees will be able to spin sponsored content into more desirable and frequently “clicked” content compared to traditional cut and dry journalists, creating a very competitive atmosphere in these companies. It is this pressure that newsroom and PR employees are feeling that habitually leads to these scandals we read so much about.
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It’s so important in today’s day and age to have trust between a company and their employees and higher management and lower level employees. Oftentimes, in these PR scandals we see a lack of trust between these groups of people. Employee versus employee or employee versus employer seems to be the name of the game these days. The “Whistleblower effect" is something we are seeing more and more in today’s headlines as companies begin to lose their employees' trust or vise versa. This “whistleblower effect” can be instituted if an employee finds what their company is doing to be unethical or frankly illegal. Companies need to focus on building trust between superiors and those who work beneath them. If, in an instance, a company refuses to do anything about a complaint filed or an employee feels so threatened that they won’t go to their superiors about an ethical problem, then that company has failed at creating a healthy work environment.

The employee wants to remain competitive and also secure in their job, sometimes cutting corners and ethical codes in order to stay secure. Employees are often on the receiving end of tremendous pressure from the company or higher-ups to break ethical codes, lie, cheat, or deceive the public to give the company a leg up.

It’s easy for the public to look for a scapegoat during these PR scandals. While, in some cases, it is indeed the employee who is at fault for breaking company ethical codes, it is the head of the company’s responsibility to keep their employees in check. It should NEVER come to the point that the head of company blatantly blames an employee for an ethical scandal within the company (Rupert Murdoch phone hacking scandal). Ethical scandals committed by employees certainly aren’t 100 percent preventable, but companies could institute a chain of command that monitors employees’ ethical practices. Now that more journalism organizations are turning away from classic and “dry” reporting, and hiring more PR professionals to promote sponsored content, public trust and a company’s credibility are at risk now more than ever.

In conclusion, news and PR companies must proceed with caution. Companies must be careful when it comes to sponsored content and always be transparent with consumers. Establish clear cut ethical codes, make sure their employees are on board, and promote a healthy and open work environment. When the divide between employees and their higher-ups grows, so does room for scandal.
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