A walk in the journalist’s shoes

By: Stephanie Dixon

With all of our media training and carefully-crafted interview responses, it seems that skepticism for journalists is almost inherent in the PR profession. But beneath the constant struggle between publicist and journalist, we really aren’t so different. Though we may go about it different ways, we share a common thread — our love for capturing an idea and presenting it in a way that people care about. What I found this summer is that stepping out of your PR shoes for awhile and putting on a journalist’s can really help improve your PR prowess.

In May, I participated in a study abroad program for travel journalism in Prague, Czech Republic. I know, I know — I’m a PR major. What was I doing taking journalism classes in a foreign country? Well for one, I had never been to Prague and it was on my hit list. But two, I really wanted to broaden my horizons and hone in on my creative writing abilities. And by the end of that 3 weeks, broadened they were indeed.

If there’s one thing that I came away with from this trip, it was a new appreciation for journalists. The work we were doing was intense, and I was wildly unprepared. I learned that being a journalist means so much more than just being a good writer. I had to go out and interview complete strangers on sometimes uncomfortable topics, and on top of that…they spoke almost no English! Also, who knew how much time it takes to get the B-Roll footage that goes behind a 3-minute long video. I was constantly having to re-shoot videos, re-record my voiceovers, and reach out to new people to interview, as many of them were reluctant to talk to me, “the American journalist”. By the end of the program, I was exhausted and had confirmed that choosing PR over journalism had been the right path for me.

PR is a very new and constantly-evolving field, which is probably the reason so many students are attracted to it. But as PR majors, there is a lot for us to learn from good old-fashioned journalism. In fact, journalism has evolved just like PR has, with new mediums for disseminating news and ever-changing techniques for capturing it. Being on the opposite side of the interview for awhile also brings a fresh perspective for dealing with journalists in our PR careers. Journalists are not always out to get us and destroy our client’s reputation. They’re simply trying to get a message out just like we are — and, as I now know from first-hand experience, that can be difficult when all you get out of an interview is “no comment.”

There’s an art to creative writing that we sometimes miss in public relations amongst the structured press releases and choppy social media copy. Stepping out of my PR shoes and being a travel journalist for a month really helped me recapture that creative spirit that made me want to go into a communications field in the first place.

For all of you PR gurus-in-training, I would suggest taking a walk in the journalist’s shoes at least once in your PR career. It truly helped me get back to the heart of why I love communications and gave me a fresh perspective on working with journalists.