Journalist changing careers.
November 17, 2014 3:15 PM   Subscribe

I have, for the past several years, worked as a journalist in a fairly niche area. I do not want to do this anymore - but I do want to put my skills to good use, and make a decent living. How do I do this? What now?

I work at a trade magazine – it is well-regarded in its niche, and it covers a large global industry, but I never saw myself spending my entire career inside this industry. I've been working at this publication for five-plus years and have been promoted a couple of times. However, I want to get out of journalism both because of the well-known problems with the business and because I've come to the conclusion that I'm not quite cut out for it.

The obvious path for journalists outside journalism is public relations – I'm not averse to this, but, I do NOT want to be a “flack.” I don't want to be the guy fielding calls from the reporters and pitching stories because, frankly, I'd hate it and be terrible at it. However, I know other jobs that use journalism-like skills exist (even in public relations). I'm a quick learner; a clear and concise writer; I'm good at distilling complex concepts down to their essence. My background includes a lot of business and finance coverage, as well as some science writing. I'd like to learn more about work that would make use of stuff the stuff in journalism I'm good at – basically writing, research, interviewing, sorting through information, clearly explaining complex ideas and events – while minimizing the stuff I'm bad at – networking for sources, trading rumors, giving a crap about breaking some lame story ten minutes before the competition.

But the idea of making a career transition is, of course, scary. I don't really know how to find jobs aside from randomly sending out resumes, which – according to every piece of career advice given, ever – is a waste of time. I'd also rather not take a pay cut or get another degree (though some extra training would be fine - I have a bachelor's in a subject that is mostly irrelevant to my career), but if there are no other options, I'll look into it.

So, here are my questions:

Given my skills and experience, what sorts of work might I want to consider? In addition to PR, technical writing has come up as I've researched this - but a lot of tech writing is software-related, and I'm mostly bored by that.

How do I go about getting my foot in the door and actually being considered for jobs when I don't really have much of a network? Those automated HR systems (Taleo, etc), in particular, seem designed almost to keep people like me out - and they're very common at larger companies.

Given that my experience is heavily focused on a trade publication – how do I find jobs that will actually value my experience? I'm not averse to doing something related to the industry I cover, but I'd rather not work in the industry itself, if that makes any sense.

I do have some contacts, in PR, industry, and at service providers like banks or consulting firms, that could – theoretically – be helpful here. But I work with many of these people on stories at my job. Is it ethical to use them to find a new position? If it is, how do I go about it without compromising my professional reputation or seeming totally inappropriate?

Finally, does anyone know of any worthwhile career counselors that might be able to help me? Do career counselors even help anyone? I'm in the NYC area, and OK with shelling out a little money, if it would be worth it.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (8 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I was a reporter for a large newspaper for a while after getting my journalism B.S. Then we moved 2,000 miles away where I didn't know anybody and thus had no connections. I finally took a crappy job for $10 and hour in the mail room of a law firm just to make ends meet.

Since I worked hard and proved to be invaluable to the company that hired me, I was able to move up to $15 an hour in a different business' mail room. And I used that job to get to know the key players at that organization so when an opening came up that fit my skills I "knew" some people already.

It sucks to say it, but I had to start out at the bottom of the totem pole again and work my way up, which took about 3 years. Now I'm the Marketing Specialist at my current job and I get paid well enough.

tl;dr - Finding a good job with no network of contacts is hard. You basically have to build a new network from scratch.
posted by tacodave at 3:44 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

I have a background in Sociolinguistics and Computer Science. When I finished college I worked for a while as a reporter. My writing ability came in handy later when I joined a speech technology company. I now design voice user interfaces for phone systems. The most important skills are analytical, ability to translate complex customer requirements into an easy-to-use design, ability to communicate well with clients and push back on unrealistic demands, ability to write natural dialogue. My company (NYC area but remote is an option) is hiring novices right now. MeMail me if you're interested in trying for it.
posted by Dragonness at 5:41 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

You will need to reconsider pr. Most people, and I know many and sort of include myself, who have come up through trade mags generally start working on pr for companies they used to cover. But. But be aware that there are few companies, even big ones, that do purely pr these days. They have agencies for that. You might be doing external and internal comms, exec comms training, branding stuff, marketing etc. You will be able to parley a pr type role into much more quite quickly in my experience.

Let it be known to the pr people you work with in these companies that you are looking for a change. Not unethical, this is how most journalists in trade get out (and they do).

The other option, depending on field, is analysts. The analyst houses usually have a few former journos in their number. Journos can make good analysts because they have a whole sector view and lots of contacts. If your field has a lot of analysts.
posted by smoke at 6:18 PM on November 17, 2014

Take a look at legislative positions in your local, county and state government. They love journalists (ex-journo here). Perhaps start with any politicos who served as sources for you and go from there. Memail me for more information.
posted by nubianinthedesert at 7:05 PM on November 17, 2014 [1 favorite]

Become a lawyer. Your skill set as a journalist will give you a real leg up as a law student and lawyer.
posted by Slap Factory at 7:32 PM on November 17, 2014

I can't say what you personally should do but many of the people I know who write proposals, do business social media, or do business writing are former journalists. Barriers to entry are fairly low and the work tends to be steady depending on the field. Memail me if you want more details.
posted by emjaybee at 8:55 PM on November 17, 2014

yep, former trade journalist, now doing federal government contracting proposals.

By the way, had to laugh about you're not wanting to take a pay cut. You're coming from trade journalism. Trust me, that won't be an issue...
posted by Naberius at 8:54 AM on November 18, 2014

Public Affairs, job series 1035, is the term of art if you're looking for a federal job. There are entire magazines published within the government, internal newsletters to be produced, press releases, etc. Looks like USAJobs has a number of mid-career positions open for non-feds in popular cities right now.
posted by the christopher hundreds at 2:26 PM on November 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

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