Dan Abrams learned shortly after announcing the launch of his new consulting firm, Abrams Research, the sting of the working press.
The aim of Abrams Research, which the former GM of MSNBC calls a global network of current and former media pros, will be to match a network member with a Fortune 500 company or PR firm client looking to expand media strategy.
What arose was an ethical issue. Media watchers wondered whether or not a working journalist, who writes for newspapers like The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal, could provide counsel, accept compensation, and continue to produce fair and balanced work.
New York magazine and Gawker both weighed in with a definitive no, deciding that any working journalist who became a part of the network would immediately enter a conflict of interest. The Times and the Journal – sources of many of today's top journalists – told New York magazine that their reporters would not be permitted to provide counsel.
But Abrams has repeatedly spoke out and tried to clarify the firm's stance on conflicts of interest. He says a number of freelance journalists, former reporters, and bloggers would make up his new network, as well as non-conflicted working journalists.
It was never the firm's intention to use conflicted reporters, and “there are... no ethical problems with what we're doing,” he tells PRWeek. “We are not crossing any ethical lines.”
So, ethical quandaries aside, it seems that Abrams has created a viable business that fills a niche for the clients it will serve, addresses the industry trend of a shifting media landscape, and is preparing for the continued globalization of business and community.
“There is no question that there are more top people who are freelancing or recently moved on to other careers,” he says.
Yet Abrams admits that he does not expect any professionals from major media outlets to sign up, as they likely have contracts prohibiting them from such work. Also, the firm will evaluate which journalists it will work with on a case-by-case basis, he says.
“Just because a couple [of media outlets] don't necessarily approve of what we're doing doesn't change the fact that hundreds of others have applied and embraced the concept,” he adds.
But, the idea does call into question how these freelancers, out-of-work journalists, or bloggers will provide any different expertise or have better connections than employees at PR agencies, many of whom are former journalists themselves.
Yet, some believe that there is a need for media pros to provide insight as part of a company's media strategy. Tony Plohoros, principal at Media Mind, a Bloomsbury, NJ-based firm that focuses on media relations counsel and services, says he works with journalists as consultants on a case-by-case method.
For the rare instances that he might seek advice from working journalists, he says it is done with the understanding that no compensation will be exchanged. What companies and agencies are after, specifically, is the journalist's insight into a story: How should it be pitched? What type of questions would he or she ask?
Abrams has learned a byproduct of media criticism. In the first nine days of business, he says he has gathered between 10 to 15 clients, 20 possible clients, and 850 applications from current or former media pros.
“I hate to say that press that has challenged us has been good for business,” he says. “But, there's no question that every time the business has been discussed... we get more applications... from prospective clients and media professionals.”