Journalists know so much about what they cover that they're often experts. Dan Abrams, former General Manager of MSNBC, is launching Abrams Research which seeks to hook up eligible journos with paid consulting gigs. Bob asks Abrams about the ethical issues that arise when capitalizing on journalistic expertise.
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BOB GARFIELD: Speaking of conflict of interest, and harkening back to the wave of layoffs sweeping the media industry, here’s something to chew on. Dan Abrams, former general manager of MSNBC, has launched a new media strategy firm called Abrams Research. The plan is to make former journalists and those currently employed available to corporations as consultants, which would seem to spell all sorts of trouble, but Dan says it makes sense. A typical client, he says, might be: DAN ABRAMS: Anything from someone who thinks that they've been treated unfairly by the financial media, let's say, and they want advice on how can we better convey our message to an American business that wants information about the German sports media, let's say. They're thinking about expanding their brand, and they want German sports media people. It’s targeted, it’s specific and it’s going to be lower cost because they don't have to retain us over a long period of time. BOB GARFIELD: Now, I just want to get this straight. Abrams Research isn't just a network of former journalists. It includes active bloggers and employees of news organizations right now. DAN ABRAMS: Right, but let's be careful. We will not be using anyone whose contract prevents them or their employee manual prevents them from doing it. BOB GARFIELD: Okay well, that will probably reduce the pool of potential consultants by, you know, some large percentage because most news organizations do have ethics policies which limit the amount of any kind of freelancing their employees can do, especially P.R. DAN ABRAMS: That’s right, but think about it. There are a lot of people who are freelance, on the other hand. What I want is people who are available and who are allowed to do outside work, and I think there are a lot of people out there. This is not just a community of journalists. This is a community of media professionals. BOB GARFIELD: Okay, but forgive me for focusing on the journalists, because the idea of someone who’s a working journalist doing any - [OVERTALK] DAN ABRAMS: How do you define working? BOB GARFIELD: Being paid by a news organization. DAN ABRAMS: So anything – so let's say they do an Op-Ed, piece, right, for The New York Times, and they're paid for that Op-Ed piece? That person isn't allowed to do any consulting? BOB GARFIELD: I'm not sure. [LAUGHS] DAN ABRAMS: No, I mean, I mean - BOB GARFIELD: Dan Abrams, the lawyer. [LAUGHTER AND OVERTALK] No, I mean, but there’s another thing, Mrs. Feldstein! [DAN LAUGHING]] You were in the room, weren't you? DAN ABRAMS: [LAUGHS] No, no but it really - I mean, it really does – this is why it has to be taken on a case-by-case basis, because there is no blanket rule that can apply here, apart from the fact that if you’re not allowed to do it, you’re not allowed to be part of our network. BOB GARFIELD: Oh. [LAUGHS] I'm so tempted to ask you the question I asked you five years ago. [LAUGHS] DAN ABRAMS: [LAUGHS] Go ahead, for the listeners who weren't here back then. [LAUGHS] BOB GARFIELD: Yeah, for the listeners who weren't there when I spoke to Dan last, about his show on MSNBC, which had essentially become “the all Scott Peterson show all the time.” I said, Dan, you’re a lawyer, you have a great journalistic tradition in your family. Are you sure this is how you want to be making a living? So let me run it past you again. DAN ABRAMS: [LAUGHS] BOB GARFIELD: There are other ways to get advice to a corporate clientele. Are you – [OVERTALK] DAN ABRAMS: What’s the matter with the media doing it? BOB GARFIELD: Are you sure this is how you want to – [OVERTALK] DAN ABRAMS: I mean, it sounds like once you touch journalism, you can't work in any other industry. You know why? Because then you’re a sellout.
I argue, no, no, these are really smart folks who are in the media, and I think that they can do a whole lot of different things. BOB GARFIELD: Why do all those employment manuals explicitly prohibit news organization employees from working on the side in P.R.?
DAN ABRAMS: This is not just a business about P.R. This is all different things related to media. Let's talk about someone who used to be a reporter for The Houston Chronicle. There is a business that’s thinking about acquiring an oil and gas business. I hire that person and say, this business wants a report on this oil and gas business they're thinking about acquiring.
I've found a really smart person who knows a lot about the oil and gas industry who’s spent 20 years writing about it, who left The Chronicle a few years back and is going to write a report for this business on something they're thinking about acquiring. Problem? BOB GARFIELD: No. God bless you, God bless him, God bless us, every one. But if he’s working for The Chronicle, even if he’s covering education or manufacturing or the police beat, I don't want him engaged in public relations - DAN ABRAMS: Well - BOB GARFIELD: - because then I don't know what his motives are for any single thing he does - DAN ABRAMS:
But – BOB GARFIELD: - including going easy on an existing news source for fear that he’s a potential future client. DAN ABRAMS: And what if he wrote an Op-Ed piece for The Houston Chronicle on some particular issue, and The Houston Chronicle paid that person for that Op-Ed piece, are you saying that that person then can't consult? BOB GARFIELD: I don't know. DAN ABRAMS: Here’s the point. You want it to be black and white. I'm saying that it’s going to be on a case-by-case basis. But I think that some people are simply horrified at the idea of members of the media making some money! The idea that media folks would actually be able to make some money, it’s awful, I know. BOB GARFIELD: I can't even imagine it. It’s certainly never happened to me. [LAUGHTER] Dan, as always, thank you very much. DAN ABRAMS: Bob, my pleasure. BOB GARFIELD: You’re a gamer. DAN ABRAMS: It’s always a lot of fun. BOB GARFIELD: Dan Abrams is former general manager and host at MSNBC, and founder of Abrams Research.
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