Nick Christensen Is the "News Reporter" Oregon Metro Government Hired to Cover Itself

Nick Christensen01.jpg
Brian Feulner/The Oregonian
Nick Christensen.
With media jobs scarce, competition fierce, and bills never-ending, many a seasoned journalist has "sold out" to work in public relations, trading articles for press releases and getting a pittance in their paychecks. What former Hillsboro Argus reporter Nick Christensen is doing in Oregon is a bit different, though. And really, it's a shame that things have come to this.

As Eric Mortenson wrote in The Oregonian on Monday evening, Oregon's Metro government agency, an elected government body that covers the Portland area and handles land use, transportation, and management duties in a huge number of areas, has hired Christensen as a reporter--to cover itself.

He's already written articles like this one about the goings-on at a Metro meeting, and this one about a new Internet program launched by the agency.

Christensen's profile page on the website goes to great lengths to point out how his stories are written from a completely "objective point of view." Indeed, directly under his byline on stories is the phrase:

This story was not subject to the approval of Metro staff or elected officials. Its content does not necessarily reflect the opinion of Metro staff or councilors.

It's believable that Christensen's stories aren't edited by Metro staff.

But his paychecks are still signed by them.

And one can be sure that if his stories don't skip to the right tune with sufficient frequency, a new Nick Christensen can easily be found to replace him.

What's more troubling, however, is that Christensen's job description is far from unique. Sports teams hire reporters to cover team news, and government agencies like a Los Angeles County Supervisor or professionals like California trial lawyers hire them to cover themselves.

At heart, the so-called "reporters" are simply writing better press releases than the grunts in PR ever could. They're doing so, of course, by tricking people into adding objective news value to their work.

By graying the line between news articles and PR blather, agencies like Metro are able to send out a marginally better-received message to the public.

But it comes at the cost of actual journalists doing actual journalism--folks who don't have to attach a preamble to their stories encouraging readers to ignore the fact that they're paid by the people they're reporting on.

This is no slight against Mr. Christensen. The man's gotta work.

But this cheapening of what it means to be a "reporter" and what a "news story" really is is doing a disservice to the public, who now has to wonder whether the person bringing them news is working for the person making it.

 
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