My newspaper career was over. I had been a reporter, page designer, copy desk chief, editorial page editor, utility infielder and all-purpose troubleshooter. Now that I had lost my job, it seemed like I was nothing.
Where do you go when the calling you’ve devoted your working life to comes to an end? In my case, finding a way forward began with looking back. I needed to take inventory of the skills that had served me well in journalism and figure out if I could bring any of them to a new table.
The new table turned out to be digital marketing. Although I had a lot to learn — and the learning process is ongoing — there’s been a lot less unlearning than I expected.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, here’s my best advice for making a transition between these two industries as smooth as possible:
Make use of your crossover capabilities.
Some of the things we pick up in the newsroom should probably stay there — like gallows humor. But my experience in marketing suggests that many of the tools in a journalist’s skill set can and do travel well. For example:
You developed discipline and nerves of steel to deliver your work on time, sometimes with an editor standing over your desk as his/her face slowly turned purple. The ability to stay focused and beat the clock will come in handy in any new job, marketing included.
A journalism career may require you to become an authority on anything from multimillion-dollar county budgets to federal sentencing guidelines to the NFL salary cap. You can use the same analytical skills to unravel the mysteries of brand guidelines and product disclaimers.
Editing and proofreading
The newsroom isn’t the only place where accuracy, grammar and tone matter. Keep finding the hole in the narrative, the phrase that lacks nuance and the word that eludes spell-check.
A healthy respect for numbers
Inaccurate use of statistics has burned many a journalist. A journalist-turned-marketer will know the importance of putting figures into the proper context (and always, always double-checking the math.)
Writing for the web
Remember blogging for your newspaper’s website? As a digital writer, you will once again cross paths with keywords, hyperlinks and the need to customize your writing for an online audience. You didn’t know it at the time, but these experiences helped prepare you for a career change. Greet them as old friends.
Know what good marketing copy and good content have in common.
Reporting and messaging aren’t as different as they might seem. Both involve the gathering, analysis and presentation of information. Many of the qualities that make for good news copy also apply to good marketing content:
- Concise, attention-getting headlines
- Accurate and informative storytelling
- An engaging tone that doesn’t go over the readers’ heads or talk down to them
Of course, journalism and marketing don’t align exactly on every single front. If your job is advocating for Product X, you have no obligation to give equal time to Product Y as you would in a news story. Remember that you’re in a different marketplace of ideas now, one where competing viewpoints are responsible for their own advocacy. Just maintain your commitment to writing with factual accuracy and intellectual honesty, and you’ll do fine.
Know that leaving news for marketing doesn’t make you any less of a professional.
Speaking of lofty ideals…
Despite their differing objectives, both journalism and marketing require you to meet high editorial standards. My colleagues and I make every effort to do our work ethically, not just because our employer and our business partners demand integrity, but also because we demand it of ourselves.
If all this sounds familiar to you, it should. As you take stock of all the positive attributes that carry over from your journalism experience, don’t overlook your ability to do any job the right way — with effort, skill and integrity.
These capabilities of yours have value in any number of settings. Never assume that the time and effort you’ve devoted to your trade have locked you into journalism (or any other field.) I did that once, only to learn when it all came to an end that I had actually given myself some highly marketable skills.