Changing careers after journalism isn’t easy. In particular, I found that some deeply ingrained habits were hard to shift. I won’t generalise – this was my experience, and much of it may be more to do with me than with journalism.
1. I mistrust and criticise authority. Like most journalists I was brought up to regard hierarchy and authority with disdain and mistrust. This is not necessarily useful if you are working in a large corporation. But in virtually every place I have worked, there is more cap-doffing and saluting than in a newsroom.
2. I like to decide how I do my job. As a journalists I tended to get a large degree of autonomy in my work. Many other professions don’t. Being supervised or guided didn’t sit easily with me though I have largely got over this.
3. I travel fastest alone. Many journalists – not all, this is more print than anything else – get the liberty of making their own decisions, often in tough circumstances, usually in quite competitive environments. Some industries are like this but in most, you will be in a team. I am better at teams now, but initially found this a challenge.
4. I am no corporate whore. Disdain for corporate values can manifest itself in many different ways – not shaving, not wearing ties, not turning up on time. In other industries the suits get more respect. Indeed I have now become a suit and have to act accordingly. There are few prizes for being a suit yet still pretending you are one of the guys.
5. I resign! As a journalist I was permitted to be volatile and to threaten to resign a few times a year. My new colleagues and managers are more likely to regard such behaviour as flaky, self-obsessed and unreliable than creative and emotionally committed.
6. Who cares about the bean-counters? Accountants and moneymen are not universally popular in the media: the real money makers, after all, are the creative professionals. This works in one or two other industries but it really doesn’t in most. Bean counting is actually pretty important so the company doesn’t go bust. I have got to know the bean counters; I count the occasional bean myself. I learnt this lesson while still in journalism, from the guys in syndication and accounts.
7. Do you know who I am? Journalists get access to people by virtue of their names, titles, employers, press cards and public expectations. Others don’t. They queue. It can be hard to adjust to the fact that Joseph Schmoe, who used to return your calls in a minute, no longer much cares for you now that you do not write editorials for the Antimacassar Advocate.
8. Excitement. I wouldn’t say I am an adrenaline junkie (I covered the European Union, after all). But I thrive on tension and bursts of activity. I had to learn a new work pattern: the daily grind, the deadline thrill, are now past. Most of my projects go on for weeks or even months, and I get my kicks in different ways.
9. Don’t you believe in me? Journalistic disagreements are often personal. Newspapers are highly individualistic places; favour and character often matter alongside ability. Other corporate environments may be more abstract and depersonalised (or perceive themselves that way).
10. Writing is everything. I have a tendency to think things can be sorted out with clever drafting, and sometimes they can’t. Many others don’t communicate through the written word and are even suspicious of it for various reasons.
Attitudinal differences between journalists and corporate PR
CJR: “For good or ill, journalism and neurosis may be inextricably caught up together”.
ABC.AU: “Do you have to be emotionally dysfunctional to be a great journalist?”