Why Journalists Can’t “Fall Back” on PR (and vice versa)
By Alison Lee, Intern
Recently, a well-written article by journalism student Brian Weidy was published on Policy Mic. He reflected on his love of writing, which kick started his career into journalism. At the end of the article, he briefly mentions public relations, but as a fallback career choice:
So despite these guys…telling me that [journalism] is the worst major to pursue, as a naïve 19-year-old, I feel some sort of collegiate-aged burden to pursue what I really love. And if three more years pass and the real-world comes knocking, I could find myself working in PR or advertising. But until then, my dreams of having a column in the Times or in The New Yorker are still firmly intact.
A lot of articles have been written in response to the comment, but many of them simply brush off the fact that Weidy didn’t mean anything by his words. Though PR and journalism are incredibly similar, there are a million contrasts between the two. Here are some of the bigger ones:
1. Who’s writing for who?
Newspapers may be tailored for the public eye, but so are press releases. However, a distinct difference lies in each respective writing style. News writing aims to be strictly objective, while PR writes on behalf of a company and aims to protect and promote it. The latter is obviously going to be more biased, and in being so, PR requires creative strategy in its writing a little more so than reporters who are providing hard facts.
2. Who’s talking to whom?
If you’re unfamiliar with the communications world, PR people are always corresponding with reporters, and reporters need PR people for interesting stories. Outside this symbiotic relationship, almost all reporters must interview subjects to be included in stories, while PR pros build relationships with clients and related contacts. I consider both industries very people-based, but in different ways. Part of what makes PR unique is its absolute necessity to foster relationships because chances are, those connections will be crucial again in the future.
3. The environment
I actually loved the newsroom and the hectic atmosphere it circulated: Phones ringing, keyboards clicking and people walking about as their piece moves from one editor’s eyes to the next. The PR agency also resonates a busy feel, but with internal meetings and client phone calls instead. The main contrast between the two workplaces is the core of what drives the comm pros to run around.
4. Primary skill sets
Certain personality traits embodied by comm pros make their job not only more enjoyable, but sometimes a bit easier. An investigative curiosity is the forefront skill of a news writer’s persona. PR pros are experts in persuasion and flexibility. While PR people handle clients changing their goals and rejection from reporters, news writers hunt down the next big story and see to it that all questions are answered. Both infamously run on stress, but their respective publics demand completely different types of services.
To pursue a career in either field requires diligence, practice and a love for writing. So Weidy wasn’t completely off in suggesting PR people are writers at heart, because we are! But just as it would be difficult for PR pros to cruise into journalism, Weidy may have jumped the gun by assuming a career in PR can be considered a fast and easy back up plan.