CommonSense Blog

Why I quit journalism

By Ryan Flinn | Jun 28, 2013

When I announced to my colleagues that after 13 years as a journalist, I was quitting for the so-called dark side – ie – public relations – one guy said he “hated” what I was doing.

Thankfully, he was the only one. A few people on twitter said something along the lines of “lost another good reporter,” to PR.

I would have felt the same way a few years ago. In fact, for most of my career I swore I would never do PR. To most journalists, people in the industry rank somewhere around used car salesmen and Nigerian princes looking to send you their fortune if you just email them your bank account number. PR needs some good PR.

That perception is built upon years of bad experiences. Most reporters are flooded with pitches at a relentless pace, many unrelated to the beat they cover or an issue not important to their readers. I was getting, on average, an email a minute before I left Bloomberg. Add to that the daily pressure of monitoring not just your competition but now also trade publications, bloggers and sources, all of whom are conversing on social media, as well as demands from editors and colleagues asking for help, it leaves little time to hear out a pitch from someone new about a topic you probably don’t have the time or interest for.

The truth is, a lot of PR is bad. There’s little understanding of what journalists want or need, or how or when to reach them. The communications industry’s growth, coupled with the continued decline of full-time journalists, means the pace of outreach seems to be at an all-time high.

So – why did I quit journalism for PR? Well, for one I didn’t feel like I had those bad experiences with W2O. The people I was in contact with were smart, had interesting clients and were fun to work with. I was also impressed with the emphasis on analytics to drive outreach and model strategy. Many PR pitches lack any measurable way to back up their claims, instead relying on jargon and empty phrases to sell something. Analytics can help validate claims and legitimatize a story. Most importantly was the time my contacts at W2O took to learn about what I was interested in and how they could help me with what I was working on. They understood the importance of relationships.

Journalism is also going through some big changes. A decade ago, when I worked for a local newspaper in Connecticut, I’d write an article and the best-case scenario for feedback was to hear “good job,” from the publisher. Maybe a few cranks would call in to complain. But that was it. You’d imagine (or hope) readers’ opinions were swayed by your article. Now you find out if that’s true immediately from online comments, email and tweets. If nobody notices your story today, you’re doing it wrong. You have to be promoting it on Twitter and LinkedIn, get others discussing it and feeding the conversation. For the modern media, retweets, Klout scores and shared links are the social currency imbuing importance. Innovative journalists are holding conversations online between their sources as well as their audience, crowd-sourcing insights on a broad scale.

The most important thing I’ve heard here, and what makes me feel comfortable as a journalist at a communications firm, is the emphasis on being authentic. Authenticity is the key to producing great work and getting results. Just as journalists work harder and write better about topics they care about, so too do communications professionals succeed more often when they believe in what they’re selling.

So some may think I’ve “sold out,” leaving a successful (and rewarding) career as a journalist. But I don’t see it that way. I still intend to change lives and influence the conversation – just my title is different.

  • listen-ear

    It takes courage to choose authenticity–bravo for making the transition!

  • Lionel Menchaca Jr.

    Great post Ryan… Hearing your perspective, it makes sense that journalists now have to be concerned building a personal brand just like many content publishers are starting to figure out. Years ago, a good story (or blog content) was enough to get you noticed. These days, the bar’s a lot higher. It takes some extra work to rise above the noise.

    Thanks for this post. Love that you’re part of W2O!