(Editor’s Note: This is part of a series that looks at journalism folks who have transitioned from jobs on the news side of the field to public relations and marketing over the course of their careers. I promised the folks anonymity before I got their answers, so they could be honest and also because I didn’t know how many folks I would get. Turns out, we have a lot of people who made the move for a lot of reasons, so I’ll do my best to keep the sources clear for you as we discuss their experiences. -VFF)
I got a text from a former student recently that helped launch this series:
I am currently applying for a communications and marketing manager position at the school district I currently cover. Would you be willing to write a letter of recommendation for me?
This guy was probably the best reporter I’ve taught in the past 10 years, simply by the dint of being a persistent little cuss. He would dig into stuff that nobody else had the patience to go get. He wouldn’t stop poking people who had records, refused to comment or otherwise dodged him until he could get the story that needed to be told. He also tended to be the person who other people told stories that often began with, “You didn’t hear this from me, but…”
The idea that he was considering a move from news into the public relations and marketing portion of the field told me two things that I pretty much already knew: The skills we teach in our journalism-based writing courses need to transfer among the disciplines of the field and that reporters were actively looking to get out of the crumbling mess that is news.
Public relations is a booming field, as there are approximately six practitioners for every one news reporter, according to a recent study. That number is up from a 2-to-1 ratio just 20 years ago. As newspapers continue to “shed” jobs (a term that should be replaced with “axe murder jobs for the sake of corporate greed,” but I digress…) and public relations continues to grow, I have no doubt that more news journalists will be taking their talents to PR.
Thus, I wanted to know what people who had made that transition saw and thought as they decided to make it and how they think we are doing to prepare them for life beyond college in a rapidly changing field.
What follows is a series of thoughts, comments and suggestions from an array of people who were nice enough to share their experiences. They come from various universities, work in different states and serve a mix of roles in the field.
Let’s start by looking at what they’re doing and how/why they made the move.
The continued downward spiral of few good newsroom opportunities, organizations cutting jobs and the general degrading of news jobs was a common theme for a number of people who made a quick switch to the other side of the field. A California-based marketing manager for a tech company said she made the switch from news to social media promotional work after years of job fatigue:
“To be blunt, I left journalism because I got exhausted with the low pay and yearly layoffs that often felt like the Hunger Games.
“In the year before I left, the company I was working for did an extensive reorganization where everyone in the newsroom had to reapply for ‘new’ jobs, complete with resumes and interviews with editors from other papers in the chain. Of course, there were fewer positions on the other side of the re-org. The process took 6 months and was so psychologically exhausting that it felt like a type of PTSD. And I was one one of the “lucky” ones to get a job that was basically the same as the one I had. I can think of at least one person at that paper who got a job they didn’t apply for (and probably didn’t really want).
“Marketing was the easiest field to transition to. I was the social media and engagement editor for my paper, so I was able to land a social media manager job without much hassle.”
For many people, the move wasn’t a hard break, but rather a series of small moves that had them using their skills in different ways.
A marketing manager for a manufacturing company in Wisconsin has worked as a marketing professional for the past 15 years at various institutions. Prior to that, she spent the 10 years after her college graduation as a news journalist:
“My move to the PR/Marketing side of things occurred somewhat naturally through my various places of employment. I went from writing hard news stories at newspapers to writing news stories in magazines and newsletters for non-profit organizations and then for corporate jobs.
“As the industry morphed into the digital thing it is today, the shift was made somewhat naturally as society and our culture became more interested in short stories than long stories. Ultimately, the storytelling part of my training has remained constant through my career, no matter what kind of story I was telling or for what kind of media.”
A VP at a major financial institution, who serves as a content strategist, also noted the gradual movement over time from news to marketing:
“It was sort of a gradual transition driven partially by necessity. I started out as a newspaper reporter (2003), and then over a 5-year period, I went from news to B2B magazine publishing (2005), then custom publishing (2007), which morphed into content marketing (2008ish).
“Over time, I became more of an agency person than a journalist. I got out of news initially because I was a magazine major and really wanted to break into magazine publishing. When I moved to the custom publisher in 2007, the company primarily created magazines for brands, so that was my entry into agency-land. That also happened to be when social media became ‘a thing,’ so the whole industry changed, and the company I was with adapted as needed along with it.
“By the time I left in 2014, it was a full-on marketing agency and I was a content strategist more so than an editor or writer.”
In some cases, the small moves were less linear, as was the case for a PR professional who works for a firm that represents professional organizations, like law firms and management consultants, in the realm of thought leadership:
“I got out of newspapering right before the economy crashed in 2008 — and when I wanted to get back in, there were fewer good opportunities (I faced some geographic constraints, too). I actually did sales/tech stuff for a few years and then some freelance writing and editing. I decided writing and editing was more for me, so I signed on with the PR firm to do that kind of work.”
Many people mentioned the issue of needing a job but being limited to a certain geographic area, such as this former broadcast journalist who also taught college courses and advised student media:
“So I was a broadcast news producer before grad school. Then taught for years and ended up making a move to DC due to my husband’s work, and PR jobs here are everywhere. I am a director at a large consulting firm serving government clients.”
The same thing rang true for a former copy editor and writer for major media outlets, who shifted to PR after more than a decade in news:
“I made the move to PR because my commute was untenable and neither my job nor my family was going to move. I looked at good employers within a reasonable distance of my house and started applying.
“Much to my own surprise, I haven’t missed journalism for a moment since I left nearly nine years ago. I don’t even miss election night pizza.”
Next time: The pros discuss the things their education did (or didn’t do) for them in terms of preparing them for life beyond the newsroom.