Stepping over to the Dark Side

Author: Havonnah Johnson | July 8, 2016

After 13 years, a half dozen newsrooms and multiple states, I made the switch from a career in journalism to public relations. There was a sense of anxiety: would this new career be as fulfilling? There was also guilt for abandoning a journey that so few get to travel. Then there was the ridicule (albeit jealously) from my fellow “newsies”. You put in 9-12 hour days, missed many holidays, bar mitzvahs and weddings to “just end up doing PR.”

Last month, I received a message through Facebook from a former colleague who congratulated me for having the chutzpah to leave news and step to the dark side. (Dark side: an industry term to describe the sheepish actions of a seasoned journalist for leaving news to take a cushy PR gig). I giggled, we exchanged pleasantries and then I got back to the breaking news for a client I was working on.

In that very moment I realized that despite my new title, nothing had really changed but the date. A fatal helicopter crash still meant I was canceling dinner plans to work late, but instead of covering the crash at the scene, I was pitching my client as an aviation expert to a reporter. Now I am using my experience as an on-air reporter coupled with my client’s aviation expertise to inform the public. I will reluctantly admit there was an adrenaline rush that only a weirdly wired communications professional can fully understand. Communicating during crises is a high-stakes, action-packed endeavor, and there is absolutely no room for error.

After years covering news, I know everyone has a story, but a well-crafted story can inform, enrage, inspire and even effect change. The key to good PR is not selling empty promises to the public, but using what you know to help others. I’ve always been fascinated by human potential, and public relations usually examines an aspect of people doing amazing things, living out their dreams – and doing it in an inspiring way. I will never be able convince a fellow journalist of this, but the newsroom was the perfect training ground for figuring out the best ways to tell stories. That said, it’s not the only option. Truth be told, PR and journalism are interdependent.

Both require impeccable writing skills and having a nose for what’s newsworthy. Communication skills are nonnegotiable, and journalist and PR professionals must adhere to tight deadlines. You have to also be a Jill-of-all-trades. You need to be well-versed on a variety of topics that affect the industry and clients you serve.

I try not be annoying like the practitioners I used to dodge. And many days I eat a huge slice of humble pie. Knowing the challenges of the journalist on the other end of my pitch can only help me become a better PR professional and give clients the coverage they deserve.

Is it dark that I have the holidays off? Perhaps.

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