With shrinking newsrooms a common trend nationwide, journalists have been jumping ship and embarking on new career paths in public relations.
This shift is not going unnoticed. A recent story from Columbia Journalism Review
and ProPublica noted that for every one journalist there are three PR professionals.
Yet some brave writers have bucked this trend, choosing instead to swim upstream. They’re eschewing their jobs in PR for often less-friendly waters in journalism.
“I’ve always been intrigued by publishing, and deep down I always knew I wanted to be a reporter,” says Anna De Souza
, who is making the transition from PR to full-time journalism. She began by writing a few trend stories, then started appearing as an expert on TV and radio segments.
“I’m really intrigued by the research, getting the opportunity to speak to different experts, and the puzzle-piecing together of a well-rounded story,” De Souza says.
Though the jump from PR to journalism may not be an emerging trend, it is a career move that De Souza and others have taken.
tracked down four of these brave souls to find out how their former careers are helping them as journalists, what they wished they had known as PR pros, and how others can make a similar jump.
PR, believe it or not, is good training for a journalist.
As you might imagine, certain attributes of a PR professional are easily transferable to a career in journalism. One such asset, says New York-based freelancer Suzanne Gannon, is confidence.
“The characteristics that one can carry with them to journalism from PR is undying perseverance and a confidence or conviction in the idea that you have,” she explained. “Definitely a sharp ability to pitch, and that requires confidence.”
Gannon, who now covers food, wine, and travel, also said PR pros are able to see the various angles of a story and how they fit into a larger context. When pitching or reporting a story, such knowledge comes in handy for a journalist.
Meanwhile, David Moye
, a former PR pro who left the profession in 2008 and now writes for Aol’s Weird News
, said his previous career has helped his as a writer. “I am less snarky in my writing and have more humanity,” he explained. “Plus, I am more patient with PR people and respect if a client can't be interviewed by my deadline.”
For several of the people interviewed for this story, such patience didn’t extend to spam email pitches, which they generally agreed are annoying.
“I am shocked that there are some people that are sending out bulk pitches multiple times a day,” said Johner Riehl, a former tech and video game PR pro who founded FamilyFriendlyVideoGames.com
. “Even if I am interested in some of the things they're pitching, I just can't take them seriously, because they're not personalizing their pitch and they are sending me pitches so often.”
Gannon echoed this sentiment, saying she’s “inundated by emails.” Still, she said she understands that PR people are doing their jobs. “That’s something I was party to when I was on the other side,” he said.
Regardless of whether it’s part of the job, this overabundance of email pitches and how much it annoyed them as journalists is something they wish they had known as PR pros. It would have better informed their pitches to journalists.
“The [PR people] that have gotten through to me have been the ones who somehow customized their approach,” Gannon explained, admitting it was something she tried in her earlier career, though she wasn't always successful.
Moye said too many pitches aim for the brain instead of the heart.
“Pitches that aim for the brain are like Teflon—they don't stick,” he said. “They make me feel like this is something I should be reading but don't really want to.”
Tips for jumping from PR to journalism
If you’re thinking about making this career leap, the journalists interviewed had some advice:
1. Set aside some money or have a supplemental income. Gannon said she didn’t have extra income and that the drop in pay was a shock after a 16-year career in public relations. “You've got to get used to paychecks dwindling from thousands of dollars to literally hundreds of dollars,” she said.
2. Think like a journalist—not someone representing a client. “The story still comes first, and you have to avoid rah-rah writing,” Moye said. “Think of the story you'd tell your buddies around a beer, not the one you'd tell to try and impress your parents' friends.”
3. Don’t forget where you came from. Try hard to remember all the things journalists did that drove you crazy as a PR professional—and don’t do them, Riehl said.
4. Make sure you love your new job. Riehl admitted that this tip may sound cliché, but he insisted it’s crucial to making the jump. “There had better be something about [journalism] that you really like,” he said. For Riehl, that something was writing.
Though most of the journalists interviewed for this story plan on sticking with their current profession, Moye admitted he’d considered returning to public relations.
“PR is a lot of fun,” he said. “If my current situation wasn't perfectly suited to my talents, I'd definitely consider going back.”