Written By: Richard Chang- Senior Account Executive, Racepoint Global San Francisco
Embers of red and orange flames crackled around me. I was alone in my company car, armed only with a notebook, pen, and smartphone – frantically searching for victims to interview and smoldering houses to photograph. As wildfire season gets underway this year, I vividly remember the many times I ventured off to the forests and rural communities of Northern California to cover these natural disasters for The Sacramento Bee.
Reporting the news for five years had a profound impact on both my career and personal development. As a journalist, aside from developing top-notch writing skills, one also needs to contend with a never-ending avalanche of deadlines, especially as news is now mostly digested on the Internet in real time. Another part of the job is researching complex topics and distilling them into content that can be consumed by a general audience.
Throughout my reporting career, I had five beats: local government, crime/breaking news, business, and education. Each beat was unique, having different movers and shakers that I had to deal with. I quickly developed an expertise in each realm, whether it was city hall, the police department, school districts or the retail industry.
After five years, I used my journalism skills to take my career in a different direction – into the field of public relations. Through this journey, I have learned that journalism and public relations share many elements, yet they can also be fundamentally different. For instance, it is true that practitioners of both fields will find that no day is alike. Reporters are waiting for news to happen or digging up scoops. PR executives may walk into a major crisis for a client or need to pitch a new topic due to the changing news cycle. Both professions require expertise in communicating clearly, concisely and honestly.
On the other hand, one major difference is how reporters and PR professionals operate. Theoretically, journalists exist to serve the public good, writing stories that comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. Meanwhile, PR executives serve their clients, guarding against dangers that may rise to become a public relations nightmare.
Journalists bring a unique skillset to the public relations world. Having worked in a newsroom, I can understand the dynamics at play, from what stories make it to the front page to how editors will write a headline. I know the types of stories that will resonate with large audiences, which shapes how I write my PR pitches to capture the attention of the media. I also easily recognize the line of questioning that will come from a probing reporter, ably predicting which stories will be negative, positive or neutral – all from listening to the interview.
Finally, one thing that both journalists and PR professionals get to do is to create and tell stories. To me, that is perhaps the most rewarding element of these jobs. In today’s ever-changing world of rapid communications, it can be helpful to understand and experience both fields especially as the crowded media landscape becomes an ever challenging arena to navigate for corporations, individuals, and governments alike.