Will a newspaper job inch me closer to a career in public relations?
November 23, 2009 1:46 PM   Subscribe

Job_Offer_Filter: I'm a struggling freelance writer trying to (someday) break into the pr/communications field. I've just been offered a staff writer position at a small local newspaper. Does accepting the job inch me closer to my desired field? Or just burden me with a ton of unmarketable experience?

So, my background:

4 years out of college, doing my best to flex my English/Creative Writing degree. Over the past three years, I've established myself as one of the top arts writers in a large, non-Chicago Midwestern city. I have regular columns in the glossy monthly, aimed at young, hip, and moneyed readers. I am a regular contributor to an alternative weekly, and I fill in for the big daily's art critic when she is sick or on vacation. I also get to do occasional speaking engagements, juried art shows, etc.

Problem is, none of this has evolved into full-time work. I've worked random odd jobs since graduation, some vaguely related to media--wrote audio description scripts for a year, wrote back cover copy for paperback books at a small publisher, picked up random corporate copywriting/speech writing/press release writing projects here and there. I've been unemployed and broke a lot. I'm now working 30 hours per week as a paraprofessional at a local public school, while still doing all my writing stuff on the side.

So now I have an actual job offer:

Staff writer/reporter position at a pair of small, neighborhood newspapers. A small local publisher, hanging on by a thread. The staff seems overworked and underpaid. The job calls for 10,000 words per month, writer pitches/plans all stories (in a very broad range of subject areas), deadlines every two weeks. Some nights and weekends. The pay is low. $30,000 (salaried, which means no overtime pay).

I don't see a future in newspapers. And print publication, though a true love of mine, is not my final career goal. I want to sneak my way over to the other side of the media. And I'm not sure that amassing more print clips is the way to do that. But print journalism is much closer, industry-wise, to pr/communications than teaching, so maybe a year or two at a paper would narrow the gap for a career leap. And perhaps I could learn enough new media skills (video and sound, slide shows) to balance out my increasingly-obsolete print portfolio.

The alternative would be to stick at this part-time school job until summer (when I will be laid off) and devote myself to a long-term, strategic job hunt. Get an on-line portfolio up, maybe start a blog. Network like crazy. By summer, I"d be ready to launch a targeted, nation-wide search. And if the fish aren't biting, I just go back to the school in the fall and keep at it.

So. All of this nattering is to simply ask: Will a newspaper job get me closer to where I want to be? Or is it just another detour?

Any recovering journalists out there starting a new life in PR?
posted by sureshot to Work & Money (11 answers total)
"Any recovering journalists out there starting a new life in PR? "

Short answer: absolutely. The top PR guy at my university was a former journalist. He now works for a major government ministry in my province as the head spokesperson.

Just one example, but I guarantee it can be done. In my opinion, doing any full-time job where they are paying you to write will give you credibility to future employers looking to pay someone to write. Successful freelance work still has a stigma around it compared to a "real" job. Do this for a year or two and you'll be able to claim much more cred as a writer able to write for various audiences. In PR communications, targeting to the audience is key.

I'd say unless you are really opposed to the work itself, that you should take this opportunity and make the most of it.
posted by hamandcheese at 1:56 PM on November 23, 2009

Working tech journalist here. There are plenty of people in the tech journalism field working in PR. After all, who better to pull the wool over a journalist's eyes than a former journalist (joking, joking). I'll let the PR people here speak for themselves, but I think that they do like some journalism experience; it helps in crafting press releases, etc.

I would certainly say the newpaper experience might be good. There are plenty of people out there who can write, but if you can prove that you can write to a deadline, on a topic that you don't know (and probably don't care about) and still write well, that's a much rarer skill.

But, as you also point out, there are plenty of ways now of doing this yourself. So the option of doing this thorugh your own blog is also a decent option. The problem with doing it yourself, though, is that it's very easy to loose focus or get bored and not do it, especially when there are 10,000 blog wannabees doing the same thing. There is nothing like a need to hit a deadline to focus the mind and get some self discipline.

So my advice would be to consider the newspaper. It sounds like a tough job, but also a good way to prove that you can do good stuff under pressure.
posted by baggers at 2:23 PM on November 23, 2009

Sounds to me like this is much more closely aligned with what you're wanting to do than what you're currently doing nearly full time already.

Assuming you can keep doing the other writing gigs, take it.

And yes. The door to PR is wide open for non-practicing journalists. No problems there. I'm in a job now after about 10 years as a tech journalist that is PR/marketing related. (Long story.) It's good experience, if not the dream job you might be looking for.

Also, assuming print is on its way out, it might be an experience you value later that you won't be able to have in 10 years.

Something else to consider -- you may have an opportunity to take this publication to new areas, if you're willing to do so. Smaller companies/publications often mean more opportunity. You might not see huge financial benefit, but the actual opportunity may be better.

Good luck no matter what you decide.
posted by jzb at 2:37 PM on November 23, 2009 [1 favorite]

Smaller companies/publications often mean more opportunity. You might not see huge financial benefit, but the actual opportunity may be better.

This. Totally.
posted by jgirl at 2:47 PM on November 23, 2009

FWIW, I work in a PRish field in the UK and I'd say over half the proper PR people I work with are former journalists. Working on a local paper used to be the traditional route into PR, before degree courses and graduate schemes evolved. Even now few things prove that you've got both the press background and the writing ability that are so important to success in the field.
posted by prentiz at 3:28 PM on November 23, 2009

Newspaper work is gold in PR/corporate communications. Nothing else shows that you can turn out tons of copy on different topics day after day after day.

As I have probably mentioned ad nauseam, my brother is a newspaper editor. At one point, he worked in PR; he was hired at a fairly senior level despite never having worked a day in PR, simply on the basis of his newspaper experience.

He eventually went back to newspapering, because that's his first love. But there's an anecdata point for you.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:03 PM on November 23, 2009

Yes, this will be great experience.

If you want to work in PR, you need to be able to pitch stories. It's great experience to be on the other side of that, writing stories and even occasionally being pitched. Having been a reporter, you will be better able to relate to reporters.

It is also very impressive to crank out the number of stories on a weekly basis that you'll be expected to crank out for a community paper. This will train you to write, and it will be good on your resume.

So, yes, go for it.
posted by alms at 7:20 PM on November 23, 2009

My mother moved from journalism into PR, and it seemed like a pretty common career move. Her journalism background helped her because she's write her press releases as ready-to-print articles, and often the reporter covering her company would just change a couple of words and then the newspaper would print it with the reporter's byline. Lazy, lazy reporters.
posted by Jacqueline at 7:30 PM on November 23, 2009

Response by poster: Original poster here. Thanks for all the great encouragement. I"m about 90 percent now on accepting this job.

Just one more question, though, for further clarification: I could reasonably argue right now that I posses a lot of the journalism skills required for PR work simply on the basis of my freelance portfolio (I think). Would I really need the staff job to parlay my experience into something more?
posted by sureshot at 7:39 AM on November 24, 2009

You are a lot more marketable employed as a writer than not. You also get paid to grow your portfolio of paid work. And you can always gravitate toward/volunteer for the kinds of assignments that might appeal to a prosepctive PR employer (reviews, event coverage, etc.).
posted by cross_impact at 8:32 AM on November 24, 2009

Yeah. As I implied in my first post: it's not just about the skills; it's about the perception of value. You very likely do have the skills right now, but if no one has ever paid you full-time to use those skills, then to a lot of employers you are untested. The job will absolutely make you more marketable.

I will add one other point: freelancing seldom involves any kind of team work, something a PR job certainly would involve. While you may be able to work as part of a team, showing that you effectively did so in a newspaper environment speaks far louder than simply claiming that you could. Good luck!
posted by hamandcheese at 8:56 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]

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