In three months since Election Day, at least a half-dozen prominent journalists have taken jobs working for the federal government.
Journalists, including some of those who've jumped ship, say it's better to have a solid job in government than a shaky job - or none at all - in an industry that's fading fast.
But conservative critics answer with a question: Would journalists be making the same career choices if John McCain had beaten Barack Obama in November?
"Obama bails out more media water-carriers," conservative blogger Michelle Malkin wrote upon hearing that the Chicago Tribune's Jill Zuckman is taking a job with the Obama administration.
Blogs at both the Weekly Standard and the National Review are pointing to a "revolving door" that spins between the media and the Obama administration. And while Brent Bozell, president of the conservative Media Research Center, acknowledges that financial troubles may be forcing reporters out of newsrooms, he thinks it's worth noting where they're going.
"When some leave journalism because of a reduction in staff, what's the natural landing spot?" The Obama administration," Bozell charged.
Zuckman says it's not so.
In an interview, she said that she began looking around for a new job last month, motivated by the grim state of the industry - her employer, the Tribune Co., recently slashed its D.C. bureau - and also by her own feeling that she'd accomplished what she'd set out to do covering politics.
She said she had no plans to go to the administration - until she heard about an opening under Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood, a former Republican representative she's long respected for reading across the aisle.
So, would Zuckman have taken - or even been offered - such a job if McCain were president?
"I have a great deal of respect for [McCain] and have thoroughly enjoyed covering him over the years," Zuckman said. "But there's no way I can answer your hypothetical because I wouldn't know who he would have chosen for secretary of transportation. My decision to go to work for the Obama administration is tied up in my relationship with Ray LaHood and his focus on getting the economy back on track."
As for other reporters making similar moves, Zuckman said that she didn't think there would be so many "if the industry were stable."
But it isn't, and there are.
On Tuesday, Cox's Scott Shepard joined Sen. John Kerry's office as a speechwriter, becoming the second journalist this year to take a job under the Massachusetts Democrat. Investigative reporter Doug Frantz is now chief investigator under the Kerry-helmed Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
A week before Zuckman announced that she's headed for Obama's Transportation Department, her Tribune colleague Peter Gosselin signed on as speechwriter for Obama's treasury secretary, Tim Geithner.
In December, Jay Carney relinquished his perch as Time's Washington bureau chief to become Vice President Joe Biden's press secretary. Warren Bass left the Washington Post's Outlook section to write speeches and advise Dr. Susan Rice at the United Nations. Daniel W. Reilly left Politico to become communications director for Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) Linda Douglass left the National Journal for the Obama campaign back in May, and is expected to become assistant secretary for public affairs in the department of Health and Human Services.
On Monday, Pew's Project for Excellence in Journalism published a report on "The New Washington Press Corps," grim statistics confirming the high rate at which regional newspapers are shuttering their D.C. bureaus while niche and foreign outlets grow.
Of the journalists flocking to government jobs, Pew Project Directo Tom Rosenstiel says: "There's no mystery here, and I don't think the key to this is ideological as much as economic. The newspaper industry, in Washington in particular, is suffering mightily."
Rosenstiel noted that Shepard would have been out of a job by April, when Cox's D.C. bureau will close after over three decades - and that Zuckman's bureau has been downsized following consolidation among the Tribune Co.'s papers.
In the case of Frantz, who was laid off from Portfolio magazine in November, Rosenstiel said that his Senate job isn't much of a departure from the investigative reporting he'd done for decades-both require "a prosecutorial mindset."
Both require money, too, and government may be better suited than media companies to provide it for now.
"I didn't leave journalism easily and I'll always think of myself as a reporter, with a notepad tucked in his back pocket and a lot of unanswered questions," Frantz told Politico last month.
But even if Frantz views himself as a reporter, he's no longer working for the Newhouse, Sulzberger or Chandler families. Instead, a Democratic politician signs the paychecks.
Frantz isn't alone in downplaying the partisan aspect of his new job. Maybe it's based on a lifetime of non-partisan conditioning, but many of the reporters who've made the leap to government seem hesitant to admit that they're no longer impartial observers.
"This is a Democratic administration; we're obviously on that side of the aisle, but I don't see this as a partisan job at all," Carney told the Times a couple weeks back.
Carney told the Times that he had "an affinity" with Biden and Obama, but that it didn't influence his coverage at the newsweekly. Time staffers have told Politico that they could never tell Carney's politics during the 2008 race.
"I didn't even know Jay was a Democrat," Time's Joe Klein said.
But does that mean Carney would have been just as eager to take a job as press secretary for Vice President Sarah Palin?
Currently traveling with Biden, Carney declined to be interviewed.
For Bozell, the ease of the transition is telling.
"If you are in journalism, and you can so easily fit in the world of politics, it tells you something," Bozell said, "that you were not that detached from it when you were in journalism."
Perhaps proving Bozell's point, journalists say that there used to be more stigma attached when a reporter crossed over to cover someone he's covered. Now, they say, it's hard to consider a colleague a sell-out when the alternative to a government job could be the unemployment line.
Al Hunt, the executive Washington editor for Bloomberg News, said that making the switch used to be a "very weighty" decision - and that it's not anymore.
"It's a sad commentary on the state of the business," Hunt said, adding that people have "got to put food on the table."
He acknowledged that journalists weren't exactly flocking to government work when George W. Bush took office in 2001, but he said that the industry factors were different then. No one was seriously predicting in February 2001 that large cities in the United States might be without daily newspapers by the time the year was out.
They're making those kinds of predictions now. And Hunt says those economic fears - rather than an ideological bias - are driving the decisions journalists are making.
"If you can't find a job in journalism, and you live in Washington, the only option is a government job, and the government is dominated by Democrats," he said. "That's less ideological than it is situational."
By Michael Calderone