An editor’s POV

Jimmy_Olsen059-30 There has been something of a tempest in a teapot of late as to the success of journalists who cross over to the dark side and become PR pros. Poynter said ex-journos didn't fare so well. PRSA president Rossanna Fiske, a one-time journalist disagreed.

As is my wont, I took a different slant and posited my views on the importance of a degree in journalism as preparation for a PR career.

Seeking the truth (as I always do), I decided to go to the horse's mouth as it were and asked Peppercom's editorial director, and former editor of Worth Magazine, Matt Purdue to weigh in. Here are his thoughts:

"In her recent blog post, Rosanna Fiske, CEO and chair of the PRSA, makes some great points about why journalists may not necessarily make the best PR professionals. As a former journalist now happily ensconced at Peppercom Strategic Communications, I’m fortunate enough to say that—so far—I’m an exception to her suggestion.

Sadly, I’ve seen some of my former journalism colleagues flame out when they tried to make the jump from reporting to PR. There’s the ersatz magazine reporter who made a client cry during a media training session when he asked, “So, tell me why no one in your industry likes you.” Then there’s the former newspaper scribe who would verbally abuse clients who didn’t understand why he typed “-30-“ at the end of every bylined article he wrote. And there’s the former broadcast journalist who thought our company’s P&L stood for “pistachios and liquor.”

But, with all due respect, I think Fiske is missing a key point that needs to be made very clearly: the difference between reporters and editors. I agree wholeheartedly that many reporters are going to provide limited value to most communications companies. Yes, they can sniff out news angles, write press releases and work their media connections. But few of them can really drive business for a PR firm.

That’s where editors come in. Editors tend to be reporters who have grown up. A senior-level editor at a legitimate news outlet is going to have all the skills of the reporter…plus the talents that can take communications companies to the next level: the ability to handle multiple projects and manage subordinates; the people skills to relate to clients at all levels, from interns to the CEO; a sense of how to package a story using traditional and digital media; and even a working knowledge of how business decisions affect the bottom line.

Many PR agencies hunt for reporters to buy themselves a competitive advantage. Fortunately for them, you can’t swing a dead cat today without hitting an out-of-work reporter. But smart PR firms are willing to trade up to editors. Yes, editors tend to require a larger investment, but, in many cases, can provide a much higher return…even if I do say so myself."

Do you agree? Could any editor with five year's worth of experience breeze through PR as Matt suggests? I have my views, but I'd like to hear what you think.

3 thoughts on “An editor’s POV

  1. This is a good perspective to add to the discussion, Steve–thanks for sharing it! Although I was a print journalism graduate, I barely cut it as a reporter before moving into PR, so I was too green to be quite as edgy as the reporters some folks have been citing in this debate.
    As such, I can’t really say if one is better than the other, but your colleague makes a good point about editors often having more of a big picture perspective on how to operate a business. Will be interesting to see what others think of his angle.

  2. Like PR in Pink, I wasn’t in the journalism trenches long enough to come into PR as anything but a reporter without much business sense.
    I would agree with Matt. Over the years, the former editors who went into PR tended to be good managers. By contrast, the reporters were often one-trick ponys, though very good at they do.

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