I am so grateful to my professors at the Medill School of Journalism. They instilled in me the spirit and mindset of a journalist that continues to shape what I do in public relations.
Experienced writers and editors, these instructors taught that journalism was a competitive field that would demand excellence every day. They were strict about preparing students to chase a story and to “get it first, but first get it right.”
I learned from them that success would demand more than wordsmithing. Hustle, drive, research, originality, curiosity, and critical thinking — at a fast pace when needed — would make a journalist outstanding. That model has become my standard in communications as well.
In journalism school I also learned to think and draw conclusions like a reporter or editor. These are some of the analytical skills I developed and how they have enriched my public relations career:
Envisioning outcomes. A journalist must figure out how to get needed information and assemble it into a meaningful story. Business guru Stephen Covey called this beginning with the end in mind. It’s also the core of strategic communications — envisioning the outcome and devising a plan to get there.
Spotting interconnections. Many changing factors influence actions in government, business, health, philanthropy and other fields. Reporting requires observing and understanding the impact of these factors. The same thinking goes into shaping communications approaches to advance an issue, promote a service or raise money.
Learning new subjects quickly. General assignment reporters often have only a day to cover a completely unfamiliar topic. They learn to research and interview effectively enough to produce an informative story. With this skill, I have been able to rapidly build enough knowledge to advise people in diverse and complex fields — medicine, science, social work, engineering and reproductive rights, for instance.
Knowing the news process. Editors must choose from a wide array of stories to cover every day. A journalist has a sense of what makes news and how how stories fit into the newsroom process. Taking these into consideration, I help organizations find and present story ideas journalists value.
Comparing and contrasting. The toughest course I ever took was Law and Ethics of Journalism. Eventually I learned to think in a legalistic style, comparing, contrasting and weighing circumstances and evidence in detail. This experience has had more influence than any other on my ability to assess situations and respond with strategies that get results.
When I talk to people looking for a public relations adviser, I am often asked whether I am ready to take on new issues, fields and challenges. Thanks to my education and training in journalism, I confidently say yes.