To depart journalism for a more lucrative career in advertising, public relations or marketing has long been interpreted — by other journalists, at least — as a sign of compromised ideals (or else exhaustion). Flacks serve products, companies, corporations. Journalists serve truth. An advertising salary may buy you a big, comfortable bed, the thinking goes, but it’s easier to sleep at night knowing you’re in a line of work that helps prop up democracy.
That sounds a bit lofty, doesn’t it? And these days it rings unrealistic and quaint, too — particularly in Kansas City, where there are numerous ad agencies but virtually no job opportunities in mainstream media.
The Kansas City Star, like many daily newspapers in the United States, has spent the past decade bulldozing its editorial staff. At first, its corporate parent, the McClatchy Co., undertook layoffs to maximize short-term profits. Now the Star is struggling simply to stay afloat, stymied by the lack of a clear business model in the age of digital news consumption. Following furloughs and round after round of layoffs, it’s only natural that the shell-shocked survivors at the Star might cast about for cushier PR gigs. It’s less natural, and somewhat alarming, that a few of them seem to be auditioning for these jobs in the pages of the newspaper.