Journalism Blog Series: Key Lessons from the Newsroom

female journalist holding microphone

This is the first post in our Journalism Blog Series. Each post includes transferrable lessons and skills from former journalists currently working at Vanguard that help them best serve their clients as public relations professionals.

When I graduated from American University with a degree in broadcast journalism, I wasn’t expecting to find a new career in public relations after two years as a journalist. However, I soon realized that I could offer invaluable skills learned in a newsroom that could provide an advantage to our clients’ communication goals and objectives.

While working as a journalist at Voice of America Latin America Division, I was reminded of how important it is to provide a global angle to every story. I was constantly told that our job was to understand how policies and events in the United States affected the southern region of the continent. It’s also important to understand how your messages not only affect your main audiences, but others as well — and how that can either hurt or help your communication objectives. This thought process has helped me develop powerful and emotional messages, always keeping in mind the side effects of what our client is putting out there and how that could potentially hurt them or be used to their advantage.

For those of us who are former journalists at Vanguard, making the transition from chasing headlines at a local, national and international level to aspiring to be the headline was not an easy shift. Below, we outline our key takeaways, as well as the transferrable lessons and skills that served us during our transition to public relations.

Tomás Harmon, Account Manager

Former TV Anchor/Reporter, CBS19 News (WCAV, WAHU, WVAW), Charlottesville, VA

“There are so many things that you learn in a newsroom — both big and small — that transfer over to PR. From the way I write to the way I approach my day, I lean on many of my old skills as a reporter to get the job done. But the skill that I use the most is how to tell a story. As a reporter, you learn that you can’t just rewrite a press release or rely on official statements. You need to dig, find someone who is personally affected, explain why the viewers at home should care about an issue, break things down into simple concepts that help someone understand what is going on. As a PR professional, I do the same thing with my clients. We talk about the story they want to share, who is personally affected, which voices we can elevate that speak directly to what’s going on or give a face to an issue. Helping a client tell a good story is key in resonating with their target audiences, and it gives us more narrative control on an issue because we crafted the story ourselves.”

Stephanie Dukes, Associate Director

Former TV Anchor/Reporter, ABC7 News (KVII) Amarillo, TX; 2Works News (KJRH/NBC) Tulsa, OK; CBS12 /Fox29 News (WPEC, WFLX) West Palm Beach, FL

“The news reporting skills I’ve found most valuable in PR and strategic communications are actually related. First, always listen closely. If you are a reporter who does not truly listen to a person’s spoken and unspoken responses to your questions, you are likely to miss something important. Secondly, expect the unexpected. You might leave the newsroom with your assignment on a given day thinking the story will be one thing. But once you speak with the people most intimately involved with the issue, the story can easily end up being not only completely different, but far more compelling than you originally envisioned. This approach is key to understanding clients’ needs — and most importantly, the needs of the audiences they are seeking to engage. Finally, ask as many questions as you can, whenever you can. In my experience, these three “newsroom” lessons taken together encourage PR professionals to dig deeply, challenge assumptions and open the door to the development of meaningful and relevant messages.”