One writes and publishes stories, and the other wants to get stories written and published. To the lay person, the main functions of journalism and public relations are only thought to boil down to just this symbiotic relationship. However, there is more to these two industries than what gets published in the news. Even now, with the advent of the Internet and social media and networking platforms, the functions and the relationship of both professions has changed to accommodate the evolving landscape of the modern age.
This shifting trend has become more evident as more journalists have transitioned or, “crossed-over to the dark side,” as many journalists have put it. Although the ability to write clear and concisely helps journalists become great communicators in PR, there are also a few important skills that are never quite covered in J-school.
A public relations professional may end up writing press releases, creating video news releases (or VNRs), making contacts, compiling together media kits, helping prep for interviews, conduct press conferences, and deal with crisis management.
“In journalism you learn how to be a good interviewer and a good listener,” said Les Goldberg, a journalist turned PR professional and owner of his own PR agency. “You learn how to ask questions, and how to illicit information from the person you are interviewing. And then you have to take that information and create a story that is interesting to whoever your audience is.”
Les Goldberg, APR, President of Les Goldberg Public Relations, who has 10 years of experience as an editor and journalist, and 29 years as a public relations professional, went on to mention that a huge part of being a good interviewer is also holding enough confidence to sit down with the highest level of people all the way down to the lowest level, which is also an invaluable trait that journalists have.
“Most journalists are great at going into a public relations situation and being able to decipher stories and figure out what’s important to that particular client, company or organization that they are representing,” said Goldberg. “You have to use all of the same journalistic traits in the PR setting. What journalists don’t tend to have, when they go into PR is a sense of business, which means they are not as familiar with corporate life, or the way business operates.
They can write a story and interview and could do all of that. Their media relations are fantastic, but in crisis situations that have to be consultants, strategists, and they have to develop plans for their mass communications, whether it’s marketing or public relations or social media. They have to be able to make those plans and execute them.”
“The jobs are very similar…Writing, critical thinking, and people skills are all a big part of what you have to do,” said Cathy Douglas, manager of Cal State University, Fullerton’s Strategic Communications.
Douglas made the transition in 1990 after the birth of her first child from journalism to public relations. She worked as a reporter for a newspaper for three years, as an editor, and for a few years at a magazine as well, and made the decision after doing her own research that public relations would fit her changing schedule. After working for several years at a PR agency, Douglas’ work, today, focuses primarily on print and online publications in the public relations sector, and she has never regretted her transition since.
“A lot of what I do is journalistically oriented, but it comes from the perspective of public relations,” said Douglas. “It’s easiest probably just making the transition writing on deadline for journalistic reasons to writing on deadline for publications or for public relations reasons. It’s more directly applicable experience when you’re talking about writing and writing, versus writing and developing a communications plan for the [public].”
In many ways, it’s actually fairly beneficial to have some experience or knowledge of journalism before entering in to the public relations profession. Journalism is a great building block to help one understand the core essentials of PR, and it’s something that future PR professionals should think about if they were offered the choice in declaring a minor in college.
“In journalism the primary things that you learn and do are writing, but you do it in a special way… In order to do that, you need to have a good sense of what’s newsworthy, and that sense of newsworthiness is valuable in both PR and journalism,” said Goldberg.
Making the Switch
Although journalism does provide a great starting background for public relations, the things that are not taught in journalism school about PR still need to be acquired from a PR professional, a university, PRSA, an internship or any other knowledgeable source.
“My suggestion to any journalist going into public relations is to go back to school, whether it’s part-time or it’s on their own time,” said Goldberg. “Reading up on it, learning about it, getting mentored by a PR professional before they start working on the job. You have to hold all of those traits and all of those talents because companies rely on you for getting themselves out of trouble, building up their reputation, communicating with the media using the right messaging.”
For both PR professionals and journalists, knowing how the other operates is what makes them even better in their career. Understanding the relationship of both the similarities and differences without attaching any stigma makes sense when you think about how closely the two professions work together. They both need each other, and they both need to understand each other.