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What Should Journalists Consider When Making the Jump to the Dark Side?
By: Shawn Paul Wood
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So, I'm at lunch the other day with a current beat reporter...with two Peabodies. (She would want that shared.) Print jobs aren't what they used to be these days, what with that new-fangled Internet thingy. To help make ends meet and beat the Grim Reaper (AKA Mr. Publisher) at his game, she was considering "going to the dark side." 

Yes, my fellow flacks. I'm talking about us — PR

Aside from the irregular schedules, high demands, lack of privacy, oddball fans who swear you two were just made for each other, militant news editors...and that stellar pay for beat reporters, writing in the local daily is a great gig. I kid. I kid. But I don't. Anyhoo, we had a conversation about what makes a good PR professional and if a print reporter type can easily make the switch. Full disclosure, I've had this conversation with my TV type buddies as well. Fuller disclosure, I am a radio news and on-air producer type, so I know about making that sinister jump to PR. Following that great question, she left with a lot to consider — not because I'm such a sage, but because there is just a lot to consider:

1. News is still news. That hasn't changed; well, for the most part. Back when news was nothing but news, it had to be newsworthy, timely, within the news cycle, local, and ready to share. Now, any reality starlet with a tramp stamp and an athletic boyfriend makes news, but hey, they help the ratings. And if anyone can find what is deemed newsworthy, a former journalist can. Some PR interns need that training. Shoot, some PR directors still need it. Nonetheless, a former reporter has it. 

2. Clients > Editors. They can treat you the same. They want to feel as if you have no other obligations at times besides their recognized behest. They insist on your action at the most inopportune times. And, at times, they aren't that interested in how you feel about it. Ah yes, the comforts of home. 

3. Cynic much? Unfortunately, there are two jobs where the dregs of society become your friends because that is all you are surrounded by — media and cops. Every stereotype finds a home in the media. Every cause has a terrible effect. And every sound bite sounds like it came from the Jerry Springer show. You get in PR and some of that sarcasm you have built up as a cushy wall around yourself tends to evaporate. Why? Some clients are non-profit. Others have a great CSR program. And even others are just great people who have a wonderful story to share. 

4. NOW! Journalists from TV to print to radio dig the deadline. Why? It's a rush. Plain and simple. It's adrenaline. Hearing the rhythmic tick and tock flutter by as you feverishly type your story or find that last source of validation. I need a glass of water just thinking about it. And PR is full of those things. Good times. 

5. Madame "Social" Butterfly. This was where my friend and I exchanged some hot media opinions. You see, she is beautiful. I mean, catch the chick in the produce section at 2 a.m. jonesin' for some celery and still hit a double-take...beautiful. However, most of her interviews were phoners and, well, her personality is about as interesting as watching Dick Cheney read. I don't know...maybe she was born in a cave, with no cable TV. (And yes, I've shared these bits of wisdom with her and she still adores me. So there.) However, with the advent of social media, it's difficult to fake personality and keep it interesting, don't you think?

I had the advantage, which was the heart of our debate. I was in radio and I was always "on." She was in print...and she was mostly "off." Can a print reporter be successful in social media? I know a few who are — witty, funny, and still partial. However, broaching that great divide is difficult and few can do it gracefully. I know some radio and TV reporters and editors who have made the switch much easier because their personality drives the zeal of a story, rather than just dogged determination. They have also found social media to be an easier avenue of engaging where some of my print friends see it as a barrier. There are exceptions to every rule and thankfully, my dear buddy will make the jump to the dark side gracefully and kick all kinds of butt. 

In short, PR may have several stereotypes of its own, but as just about every reporter that has made the switch discovers — none of them are accurate depictions of what flacks really do. If you were a good reporter, I believe you will make a good PR professional. Conversely, if your stories were usually on the back side of the obituaries, well...consider an online company. They are booming now.

Oh wait. Scratch that.


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About the Author
Shawn Paul Wood is a hack-turned-flack with more than 20 years of collective journalism, copywriting and marketing communications experience. Shawn Paul is founder of Woodworks Communications in Dallas, Texas. If you need him, ping him here or follow him on Twitter @ShawnPaulWood
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