Ten uses for an Ex-Journalist. II: New Career

And what do you want to be when you grow up? In the second part of this series of articles on career change from journalism, some possible new jobs – from PR to PI.  

1.       PR. Yes, yes, I know. As a journalist, seems like the dark side. Actually, it depends on who you do it for and what you do. Might also be called communications, which somehow seems more acceptable; or strategic communications (working out what to say, to whom to say it and how) which can be challenging and interesting. The chances are that this will be low down your list, even though you have some of the skills. But consider it. It can be fun, it can be rewarding and there is quite a bit of it about. Equally, don’t imagine that just because you have been subbing the gardening column for the Buttkiss Bugle that Hill and Knowlton is about to make you chairman: PR involves some aptitudes you will have to acquire and is harder than you may think.

2.       Media trainer. Many make money doing it either as a standalone or in combination with other things. But it can’t simply be a two-hour series of anecdotes – companies want hands on experience and transferable skills, structured learning and results. They will also probably want TV and radio and print together. A good way to handle this is to focus on a group or industry you know well: the police for crime reporters, or retail for fashion reporters. If you have been covering terrorism, well, tough.

3.       Editing and writing. As a contractor for companies, or in-house. The fact that you can knock out a headline in thirty seconds is a marketable skill as many companies move to the web. The content of what you write and edit might not be so interesting, but the money is OK. This is by far the easiest thing to sell: it is more or less a commodity and there are opportunities in most organisations. Ask the marketing or PR functions. When I say “not so interesting,” by the way, I really mean it.

4.       Corporate Investigations. Increasingly attracts investigative journalists and foreign correspondents. Investigating frauds, or getting the truth about competitors, or profiling foreign governments. The spookier side of life is challenging and can be lucrative, though the industry is volatile. A useful sideline if not a career, especially if you have business experience.

5.       Your own publishing business. Journalists go on to run their own freelance agencies, websites, blogs, report publishers, all sorts. A surprising number find that the make-do-and-mend, improvisational skills they have honed in journalism help them get started in their own businesses as entrepeneurs. Newsletters and so on are easier than ever before to launch. Requires business skills as well, but these are not as hard as they look. The key thing: the right idea for the right audience.

6.       Speechwriting. Harder than it looks. But some very eminent journalists have done it and done it well. It is a sure and ready way to stay popular with powerful people. Bear in mind you are more likely to do the sales conference scene-setter than the Gettysburg Address; and should write accordingly.

7.       Education: To my surprise (and dismay) an awful lot of people still want to learn journalism in college. Many ex-journalists help them: becoming an educator suits the better verbal communicators, those who have thought hard about the practice, and those who enjoy the stimulation of the learning environment. Solitary misanthropic drunks tend not to fit in so easily. Pays OK. Again, requires more than an hour or two of anecdote about that time Spiggy and you missed the boat to Zanzibar (or was it Aden?).

8.       NGOs: Doing good comes easily to some. Many NGOs and non-profits have a journo tucked away somewhere and not just doing press: they work in advocacy, programme work, fund-raising, all over. The environment suits and the wages are (while not lavish) enough to keep body and soul together. Offers the sense of commitment many feel lacking in business. Don’t assume it is free of politics by the way, just because it is free of profit.

9.       Consulting. The key skills for consulting are asking questions and listening to the answers, and this suits some journalists well (not all – you know who you are). Consulting on what? Business, or politics, or communications, or marketing… you name it. This is a diffuse area, but there are a few real success stories here. What would you like to consult on? Are there customers and do you have skills? Well, away you go then.

10.   Author. I’ve put this last for a reason. “I’m going to write a book” is the first response of many journalists when the wage packet no longer comes. Just don’t. The publishing industry is in at least as much trouble as newspapers. There are too many books. The few journalists that have made this work should be forced to publicly recant their success, for the sake of all of the others that sit in mouldering basements with half-finished diatribes on Life In Old Fleet Street. Oh, if you must: get a good agent.


Toby Young on writers.

Turning journalists into PR people.

A good description of media training from the NYT (very old article, but content still broadly correct)

John Zhu’s very good guide to other professions  


Index to this subject

Part One: The Plan

Tomorrow – Part Three: Get Moving


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