Common Misconceptions about Switching from Journalism to PR

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The relationship between journalists and those in the public relations field has always been a complicated one. The source of this conflict is relatively straightforward; When Arthur Ochs bought The New York Times in 1896, he reportedly stated that journalists are charged with delivering the news without fear or favor. Meanwhile, PR is firmly situated within the field of business, whether at corporations or consulting agencies.

There are variations to these two ideals due to prevalence of partisan media bias, rise of blog culture and changing landscape of PR. Yet stark differences remain between the two disciplines. PR agents seek out journalists to benefit from “free media” or “positive press,” while many veteran journalists avoid these people with all their might. This tense dance between journalists and PR professionals will likely continue for years to come, though recent studies show that there may be significant career crossover soon.

More and more former journalists are turning to PR for a variety of reasons, some of which include massive industry layoffs, poor work-life balance and the quickly evolving landscape of news in general. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects the PR field to grow by 6 percent between 2014 and 2024, while the Pew Research Center’s Journalism Project estimates that the number of individuals working at newspapers is half at what it was during the 1980s. While digital circulation has led to small upticks in sales, as a whole, the industry continues to trend downwards.

Newspaper with breaking news heading

For journalists looking to make a transition into the PR field, there are a few thoughts and facts they must consider first. This is because the career switch is not as completely seamless as one would think. While many former reporters can be assets to any communication team, it is important to keep in mind that there will be a learning curve when honing skills in everything from brand voice to technology usage. Here are four points to consider before making the jump:

1. PR work requires business development knowledge and skills

Despite falling readership rates and difficulties in the newspaper industry, for most journalists, their job is not primarily centered around selling papers. They may not be familiar with sales tactics or persuading audiences to pay for their products or services. For traditional reporters, their job is to write, present, photograph or video the truth, not to convince anyone to purchase something or subscribe to a central ideal.

Meanwhile, in PR, solid professionals are continually thinking and strategizing about how they can align their clients’ business goals and overall direction with public opinion. Their jobs are to create public goodwill or industry standing with whatever their client wants to sell or market. They must consider every facet of client relations, from corporate partnerships to sales to community building. To achieve this, PR professionals rely on collaboration and constant communication to get the job done.

While reporters frequently work with their peers on stories or depend on sources to gain information, reporting is largely a singular field. Their job is to decide on or happen upon a potential story, follow up on leads and then report on it through their particular medium, whether that is writing, photography or video. This collaborative, business mindset may be challenging to adjust to for seasoned, former journalists, but is not impossible to become comfortable with.

2. PR work can be far more diverse than reporting

Some journalists think they should move into PR because the work is easier. Certain industries state that this is not the case. In the newsroom, reporters jobs are fairly straightforward. It involves reporting and writing stories for the publication. Though there are various hoops to jump through and the range of story content can be diverse, the job itself remains the same. A single journalist could report on a political scandal one day and an urban housing project on the next, but some of the core daily tasks are consistent for traditional journalists.

This is not entirely the case with PR. Depending on whether they work at an agency or at a corporation, PR leaders could work in a variety of roles, including project management, strategic thinking, editorial, event planning, media coordinating and more. Long gone are the days of the traditional press release. Now, PR professionals handle everything from writing blogs to speeches to running social media channels.

With the rise in new technology, PR agents must embrace new collaborative tools, software solutions and various online platforms. This widespread adoption and acceptance of new technology in the business world has caused a huge divide between PR and reporting. Now, PR professionals may announce the release of their product over YouTube or an inventive social media campaign, rather than through traditional news means.

3. PR work deals with the subjective, rather than the objective

One of the most impactful differences between PR and journalism is the different mindset when approaching information. The vast majority of journalists are trained to be objective, no matter the subject. While there have been deviations to this established rule, as seen throughout the 2016 presidential election and public backlash over new immigration policies, most reporters seek to present information from an unbiased, objective perspective.

Meanwhile, PR professionals must be subjective when they present certain information. There are objective truths in the PR field, such as product features, release dates, personnel promotions and more. However, PR is also about being subjective in the client’s favor. In the most basic sense, the very nature of a company press release is to announce a new release, event or situation at an organization. These pieces typically align in favor of the company or its unique mission.

Subjectivity in PR is more than writing press releases or social media posts in favor of an organization. Many PR professionals argue that the true value of effective PR at companies requires a mix of objective data and facts and subjective analysis. While organizations want to understand how their investments affect their bottom line with various facts and figures, they also need to know how their efforts impact their customer base in a less tangible way.

With the rise of metrics and analytics, marketing and PR teams have easier access to company data than ever before. When it comes to reaching the right audience with the right message, PR professionals must operate with more qualitative information. Brand awareness, market reputation, customer behavior, company goals and other factors are far more subjective and less easily measured.

4. PR work operates at a different – not slower – pace

Journalists spend their days interviewing one source after another, attending community events and feeling the crunch of writing on a tight deadline. A major misconception held by many former journalists looking to branch into PR is that the field is much slower than a newsroom. Many PR professionals do not spend their days driving around town and working odd shifts to cover a particular story. Yet, they do have evolving and sometimes hectic deadlines and schedules they must manage throughout their workday. Essentially, PR operates at a different pace, not a slower one.

The journalism field is known for its lack of proper work-life balance and unconventional working hours. For reporters who have families or interests outside of their work, they may find it challenging to work night shifts or always feel like they are on call for years at a time. At the same time, many journalists love the rush of snagging the perfect source or finishing a piece right before it has to go online or to the printer. Some have become so accustomed to working weekends or running around town that they may feel that PR would be too slow of a career transition for them. Most PR professionals would disagree, saying that PR can be just as demanding, just in a different way.

PR does not revolve around a daily news cycle schedule, but during company campaigns or times of trouble, PR employees must be on the top of their game at a moment’s notice. PR agents may be having a low-pressure workday, but then find out that their CEO made unintended controversial remarks or a new product suddenly went viral on social media and customer orders began pouring in.

Group of journalists analyzing story

At these times, PR professionals must get busy trying to calm a negative situation or respond to elated customers online. While PR might not be as consistently on-the-go as journalism, it offers its fair share of fast-paced excitement for former reporters looking to make a career transition.

If you want to have a successful career in public relations as a former journalist, a degree from the George Washington University may be just the professional development you were searching for. Check out our website today to learn more about this exciting and promising field.

Sources:
What Journalists Should Know Before Switching to PR
Journalism to PR: The other side of the divide
The Big Switch: Hack to Flack and Back
THE TRUTH ABOUT GOING FROM JOURNALISM TO PR
How P.R. Is Killing Journalism
5 tips for transitioning from journalism to PR