Since the economic downturn, I’ve read quite a few articles from colleagues in my industry on journalists who turn to public relations as a new career.

In light of what has been going on for the last three years, I wonder why this is an issue. I can think of a lot of issues that need to be brought to the table and discussed within our industry, things that are glaringly apparent as public relations professionals linger on the unemployment rolls, but this isn’t one of them.

Some of my peers are upset that former journalists are scoring public relations positions quicker than those with more experience in the profession and discipline, people who started their careers in public relations and marketing departments in corporations, government organizations and non-profits, as well as pr agencies.  They argue that journalists only have experience working with the media and don’t understand the profession and discipline of public relations. They can only bring relationships with those still in the media to the table.  PR professionals note that former journalists don’t have experience juggling accounts, or working in a corporate setting, or managing multiple projects, and don’t know anything about client relations. And that hiring former journalists sends a bad message to those who started out in this profession with years of experience as well as new grads with degrees in public relations and/or communications seeking to enter the field – that their degrees and experience aren’t needed or relevant.

This sounds like sour grapes to me. This sounds like hate. And there are few things I have more disdain and distaste for than whiny crybabies.

A couple of things:

Public relations folks aren’t the only ones hurting for jobs. News rooms across the country, from newspapers to magazines, have been DECIMATED.  In 2008, according to The American Society of News Editors, American daily newspapers shed 5,900 newsroom jobs. This doesn’t touch magazines or smaller weekly and monthly newspapers that cut jobs or folded completely. And this was in 2008. A recent article in Ground Report notes that 15,000 journalists lost jobs in 2009.

They say we are coming out of the recession, but since many publications no longer exist, a good chunk of those jobs aren’t coming back.  There will probably be job growth with online publications. But I feel this is some time off.

I’ve worked in this profession for more than ten years. And I have encountered a couple of public relations professionals who graduated with public relations degrees (I think), have many more years of experience than I have, have worked in global public relations firms and Fortune 500 companies, and can’t keep good accounts if their lives depended on it and know nothing about solid business and client management.

But I have worked with several journalists turned public relations professionals who were successful and talented at their jobs. And what I have learned from them is immeasurable in terms of my professional growth. What I have personally encountered:

  • Excellent writers and editors – of course! With many public relations professionals coming into the industry not knowing how to write or with strong editing skills, we need these people to maintain standards and teach those who need the help to be better writers.
  • They can craft story angles, write truly effective press releases and other communication materials to garner media attention, and can tell you right off the bat if a story idea won’t fly and work with you to find something that works.
  • Who said they can’t juggle multiple projects on tight timeframes? Ever worked in a newsroom? Journalists are always on deadline and they don’t just write one article, they write several, while simultaneously researching and putting together new pieces.  This sounds very much like agency work! This encompasses research, as well as strategic planning! And often an analysis of complex concepts, which they have to break down for people to understand.
  • They are excellent at constantly monitoring and staying knowledgeable in a particular industry or field, because they have to in order to write good pieces. They also have to maintain good relationships with various publics to get information and answers, which include companies, legislators, regulators, advocacy groups. And yes, they do bring media relationships to the table.
  • Actual account management, developing strategic plans and measurement and evaluation tools can all be taught. And since the public relations industry doesn’t have one good standard method of measurement and evaluation, it’s rather silly to call someone on the carpet and say they don’t know how to do it. Yeah, probably, but which one?
  • Many journalists are already familiar with social media tools and use them regularly.

There are many challenges facing public relations professionals that go beyond this awful economy. The “issue” of journalists making a career move to public relations just isn’t one of them. Instead of debating this, the best thing pr pros can do to get the positions they want is to sell their value and what they bring to the table to companies they are interviewing with – which for some inexplicable reason we seem to have trouble doing.

And yes, I know of what I speak. I was laid off and out of work for 16 months before finding a position…and agencies and corporations hiring former journalists wasn’t the problem.  

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