Journalism to Corp Comm: making the switch

BY MITUL THAKKAR| IN Media Business | 17/12/2016
Business journalists, including those at the top of their profession, are increasingly making the shift from media to corporates.
MITUL THAKKAR explains why

 

When I was making up my mind to quit journalism a couple of years back, I did not have much trouble in seeking guidance from experienced people. There were plenty of my former colleagues who had moved from media to corporate houses and public relation agencies.

Since I moved to the corporate world in late 2014, I have repeatedly answered the same set of questions to number of my journalist friends and acquaintances. The FAQs are - why I left journalism and what life is like on the other side of the table. I have been giving random answers to those who are just curious and offering detailed explanations to those who are serious about changing their career path.

In the process, I realised that there has not been any serious attempt to understand the increasing movement from business journalism to the world of communications. This piece is an effort to list the reasons behind the migration of newspersons to the corporate world.  Media, which proactively reports on brain drain in other areas, has not paid much attention to experienced resources quitting journalism to join the field of communication for the most part, with some opting for financial institutions (as analysts), policy advocacy, think tanks, consulting, NGOs and academics, among other avenues. 

"This piece is an effort to list the reasons behind the migration of newspersons to the corporate world."

 

Evidently, human resource management is not a major focus area in the field of media that is largely driven by priorities and outlook of publishers and editors. Also, it may be on account of ample young and less expensive talent that is available to fill the shoes of business journalists and even editors who are increasingly moving out. I do not want to risk guessing the number of business journalists and editors moving to the corporate houses and public relations every year. My phonebook itself has over two dozen names of journalists turned communication professionals and the figure is rising. Interestingly, some of them told me that every day is a new day in journalism, yet it is also monotonous after a point.

Typically, money is considered the key motivation for switching jobs. As is common knowledge, newspersons get a pay hike of 25-150% when they move to the field of communications. However, pay structures of international news agencies, leading English news publications and channels are not poor. Newspersons would not have played long innings in media if earning higher remuneration was the prime career goal. For instance, the New Delhi and Mumbai based accomplished business editors of India’s largest news agency and English daily respectively, joined the corporate world after over two decade long innings. Two of the three editors who were instrumental in my recruitment at business dailies are also working with an MNC and the largest Indian PR agency respectively, after close to 15-year stints each in journalism.

"The New Delhi and Mumbai based accomplished business editors of India’s largest news agency and English daily respectively, joined the corporate world after an over two decade long innings. "

 

Communication is the obvious choice for newspersons since the skills required for both the roles are common to a great extent. These are domain knowledge, nose for news, writing & networking skills, inquisitiveness, ability to articulate and understanding of how media functions among others. Lately it has become difficult to judge whether the demand for business journalists for communication profiles is on the rise, or their urge to move to the other side of the table is becoming stronger.

Communication professionals look after overall communication strategies for reputation management of the corporate house. It involves internal communications with employees and external communications with stakeholders such as customers, investors, suppliers, government authorities through conventional and digital media. Those who choose to join public relation agencies work largely on managing media relations on behalf of one or more corporate houses.

The reasons for migration to the field of communication depend on the age and career phase of the newspersons. Those with experience of less than 10-15 years prefer to move out of journalism to find new career avenues in the sector of their choice. There are ample examples of journalists moving to organised retail, aviation, start ups, stock and commodity markets among others during their up cycles. There are ample instances of mainstream journalists joining political parties during election season as a leader or to help leaders to communicate. Newspersons with more than 15 years experience and comfortable positions in media take the plunge once they realise that they have reached the ceiling and there is barely any scope for further growth. At this stage, editors end up spending more time with administration and management instead of active journalism.

Besides managing bureaus, editions and shows, in certain cases editors also have to look after of publishers’ commercial interests. In such cases, they do not mind migrating to corporate where they have to take care of promoters’ interests at a much higher salary. Sluggish advertising revenue of many English publications and news channels is a common knowledge in the times when digital media has emerged as a huge threat without proving any revenue model for itself. In the past three years, the emergence of digital media has changed the way news is gathered, treated and dispensed – especially in business journalism. In fact, digital media has changed the very definition of ‘news’. Even so, it is not an easy decision for newspersons to turn communication professionals.

Traditionally, business journalists and editors enjoy a convenient relationship with communication professionals with the latter having lesser say. Prior to the move, newspersons orient themselves to accept this change. There is also a fear of change in chemistry with former colleagues who might smell professional interests even in genuine friendship. Often there are also murmurs about unfair proximity between newsperson and the corporate house that he or she is moving to. When I spoke to some former newspersons, they discounted this factor. They contend that savvy corporate houses would prefer to have favourable journalists in the newsrooms instead of on own team. Another area of concern during the such a career move is that one is  driving in one way traffic. A U turn from communications to journalism is not easy in case one fails to enjoy one’s new avatar. However, there are exceptions where people have returned to media after brief stints in the field of communications - often at a lower salary and not in the same news house. In comparison it is relatively easier for people to return to journalism after working in the fields of content writing, policy advocacy, financial analysis or consulting.

During my decision making process, I received more or less the same feedback from former journalists - work and life are great if you are fine without the daily action and recognition that media offers. Having interacted with several journalists turned communication professionals, coupled with my own stint in corporate world, I can elaborate this feedback as follows:

# Starting from trainee journalist to the editors, practically everyone does the same job with varied degree of authority to decide newsworthiness. Irrespective of the age, experience and designations, newspersons are foot soldiers and compete for the same set of stories to report first and treat the subject better. The expectations from experienced journalists go up even as young and energetic talent gives seniors a run for the stories. On the other hand, expectations and work pressure in the corporate world come with access to more resources in terms of a bigger team, the support of external agencies and a budget. Communication assignments are as challenging as journalism but corporate offers certain comforts that are difficult to find in the news world.

# Corporate houses offer support of resources such as vendors / partners for almost each of the function that the communication professional is suppose to undertake. Specialised agencies for creative works, content writing, advertising, media buying, event management, film production houses, social media and of course public relations are commonly used by corporate communications. On the other hand, media persons are supposed to execute every assignment on their own without any external support due to the nature of their work. They make calls, travel, gather information, interview people, transcribe audio files, type stories and so on. On top of it, newspersons have pressures to tweet and file stories for digital media platforms too. Hence, there is very little support system in place for work in media. 

# Thanks to the need for working with multiple departments within the company and multiple external agencies, the corporate world turns an individual into a team player. Here, an individual can aspire to achieve bigger goals with the help of team members and external resources equipped with specialised skills. Also, the pressure of carrying entire burden on individual’s shoulders goes down unlike journalism where an individual’s credibility is at stake for every story.

# Newspersons are able to get a ring side view of the developments while the corporate world offers them the opportunity to be part of the real action to create something tangible that offers a different kind of job satisfaction. A communication executive is part of a cross functional team where he can contribute to the concerned project and assignments directly. Also, it offers opportunity and experience to be part of the board room meets for key decisions, which otherwise would have been known to him only through hearsay. Often journalists are tempted to apply their ocean of knowledge and contacts in the sector directly instead of just writing about it. For instance, financial journalists bring immense value to investors’ relations, or policy correspondents bring in an entirely new perspective and outlook for a corporate house. 

# In media, journalists and desk people are suppose to learn new things and hone their skills on the job. They barely see their HR team after coming on board.  Work pressures in the ever happening world for journalists also barely allow media houses to spare them for training and development. The corporate world invests heavily in training and development of their talent on campuses in India and overseas. IIMs, ISB and other leading management schools are thriving on executive programmes.

# In the corporate world, the job description is an important element to map a person’s roles and responsibility against which his or her performance is evaluated. In media, job description is subject to the situation and priorities of the publisher or editor. In journalism, more than one journalist tracks not only the same sector but also the same set of companies –for the same publication. In television, one has to be ready to research and write about anything and everything irrespective of the preference and preparedness of journalist. Due to clarity over roles and responsibility in corporate world, life is more predictable.

# For newspersons, everyday comes with new surprises and it is difficult to plan a break from the work. In an ever happening world, smart phones and laptops keep them always occupied. Even when there are colleagues to cover the routine developments in his or her absence, journalists end up writing stories or feeding extra information or verifying the facts even when they are on vacation. Enterprising journalists tend to find off beat stories and features even from their holiday destinations. On the other hand, the corporate world is known for working according to a planned calendar of activities for the year and quarters (sometimes even day based). It gives clarity over the eventful and lean days well in advance. On top of it one has a liberty to set auto response for emails or switch off every buzzing smart phone while enjoying holidays.

# Lately, a number of news organizations have adopted a five-day work week with a sixth day of work from home and holiday on the seventh. It has brought some relief for journalists but that does not stop them from staying on their toes.

# Journalist marrying journalist or desk person is a routine story in media. In view of the uncertainties in media and advent of social media, journalist couples want to de-risk their careers by working in different sectors. Diversification in employment of dual income households ensures better stability in difficult times. In the current scenario, media does not seem to be having much scope of rapid growth in the foreseeable future.

# In many cases, couples also decide to part ways professionally for healthy work and life balance. In case of marriage between partners working with different media (print and electronic) or journalist married to desk person, different working hours are taking toll on family life. It compels many to opt for regular life of 9 am to 6 pm for five day working week in corporate structure.

Here, I must clarify that that my decision had nothing to do with CareerCast.com’s survey that declared a newspaper reporter’s job as the worst job- three year in a row in 2016. I cannot disagree with The Baltimore Sun’s influential writer HL Mencken who famously said, “As I look back over a misspent life, I find myself more and more convinced that I had more fun doing news reporting than in any other enterprise. It is really the life of kings.”But, I am still trying to figure if Mencken stated this as a scholar or satirist!

 

Mitul Thakkar is a New Delhi based communication professional with a leading solution provider of energy delivery and a writer for the past two years, having worked for a decade with leading business dailies from Ahmedabad, Mumbai and New Delhi.  

 

 

 

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