I've always been a hat man. Panama hats, fedoras, baseball hats, cowboy hats, I like them all. But these days it seems like everyone is wearing a lot of hats, especially PR pros.

That was the topic of conversation at the Colorado Healthcare Communicators program this week. As the media landscape shrinks due to mergers, layoffs and closures, journalists are becoming scarce. So to get our clients' stories told, we have to play the role of journalists. We have to be writers, editors, producers, reporters and photographers. We have to produce the stories and feed them to the media in a format they can use in print, on the air, or online.

Not long ago, the media would have turned up their nose at our VNR. Now they are practically begging us to send them video. The good news about this trend is we have a lot more control over the story. Now we can actually create it instead of wondering if our messages will be diluted, misconstrued or edited out altogether, or if the story will paint our clients in a negative light. We can make sure our clients say something clever, compassionate or profound, and that they always look like an expert. Then we can take the story and put it on our own video channel. Just like an ad.

In some ways, that is also the bad news. Bad because we are losing a level of journalistic integrity that allows the public to trust that the source of the news is credible, honest and objective. We can debate about whether the news media has already lost that claim, but if PR pros can now deliver not just the idea for the story but the actual finished product, what's to prevent us from only telling one-sided stories that always paint a positive picture? Nothing, really, except our own professional code of ethics, which we can choose to abide by or ignore.

The real question is, if PR is evolving into citizen journalism, do citizen journalists have an obligation to adhere to the same ethical standards as professional journalists? Do citizen journalists have an obligation to practice journalistic integrity? The answer is, it depends. And the way you feel about that depends on how you answered.

Like every complicated issue, there are two ways of looking at it. Which is why we as a profession are so conflicted. By day I'm a PR pro. By night I'm a citizen journalist. What can I say? It's my fate. It's my curse. I'm hat man.

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