Seven Reasons Every Brand Should Be Hiring Former Journalists
Lou Dubois, Senior Director - Content, Creative, HD Story Labs and Home Depot TV
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This article was originally published last week on the M.T. Deco blog here.
Just last week, Pipewrench, a longform news site that I’d really come to enjoy the past few years, announced it was ceasing publication, effective immediately. It’s something we’ve seen far too often in the journalism industry in our lifetimes, but for all of us who have spent time in newsrooms, it stings even more, as that means more journalists who are out of work. As Michelle Weber, the site’s editor, put it very matter-of-factly in her final editor’s note (which you should read in full), “critical acclaim and revenue do not have a proportional relationship.”
Journalism, despite remaining one of the most vital parts of a functioning democracy (holding those in power accountable, sharing stories that others don’t want told, and fostering a well-informed population) is an industry in peril.
Declining profits, shrinking staffs, changing consumption habits (including the proliferation of digital and social media), unrealistic expectations of time (everything is 24/7) and more have led to a complete upheaval in the news industry. And with that, so many incredible journalists have found themselves out of work, wondering: what next?
One of the things that’s most difficult when you work in news is that it’s hard to imagine yourself not working in news. For many, we spent significant time studying it (whether undergrad or grad school), and then practicing, learning, evolving, and applying those skills over many years, often across many cities, countries, news outlets and employers.
The good news: for brands and businesses in every other sector, this is an opportunity. An opportunity to recruit some incredible talent to your own workplace. An opportunity to bring truly unique talents and skills into your company. An opportunity to give someone a path forward they probably didn’t even know existed.
I know this because almost 10 years ago, I left an incredible journalism job in one of the greatest newsrooms in the world (NBC News), located in one of the most famous buildings in the world (30 Rock), with some of the smartest people I’d ever worked with, to take a chance on something different (working in corporate content and creative). Was it terrifying? Yes, but it was a decision that changed the trajectory of my life and career, both personally and professionally, for the better. It’s also why I started a podcast earlier this year with a former newsroom colleague focused on careers, and lives, Beyond the Newsroom.
I’m here to tell you today why, if you have an opening, even if the background isn’t perfect or what you’d envision for that role, hiring a former journalist at your brand or business is one of the best hires you’ll ever make. It’s something I’ve done a lot of in the past 10 years, and almost every one of them has thrived.
1. Critical Thinking – Journalists have been trained to never accept something at face value. They know that asking “Why?” and “Why not?”, looking at multiple different perspectives, challenging conventional wisdom, digging for context, and thinking about broader impact makes any story better. Those same qualities will make your team, and your company, better thinkers.
2. Deadlines – You might think your company has crazy deadlines, but we’re talking about people whose entire professional careers have been driven by deadlines. Miss a deadline in news? It doesn’t happen. Some of the best advice my father ever gave me was “to be early is to be on time, and to be on time is to be late.” He was of course talking about showing up for meetings, but it was always applicable to me with news deadlines as well. If you tell these folks when something is due, you will get it.
3. Born to Multitask – If you’re a modern-day journalist, you’ve been asked to do more with less for your entire career. Journalists are writers, photographers, editors, videographers, often all at once. They’re filing for broadcast, for the web, (sometimes) for print, all while sending out real-time live updates on Twitter. And then when a new story breaks, they drop all that work they’ve done and start anew, all with that deadline looming. Journalists are some of the best multitaskers I’ve ever met.
4. Asking Great Questions – All journalists set out to find answers to the same essential questions:
Who is involved?
What is happening?
Where is it happening?
When is it happening?
Why is it happening?
How is it happening?
They also ask pertinent follow-ups when something doesn’t seem right or when that small detail in the press release seems more significant than others think, and have honed the amazing skills involved in interviewing, to get people to speak at length, often about difficult and complex topics. These questions will make your team, and your business, think differently about the way you do things and sometimes about what it is that you’re even doing.
5. Great at Building Teams – The best journalists know that you must surround yourself with great people to succeed. In broadcast, great producers, videographers and editors make every reporter’s package, and show producers, technical directors, graphics operators and directors keep a program flowing. In digital and print, editors, fact-checkers, and graphic designers make your words pop. The best leaders in business follow this same mentality: they bring together people of various backgrounds (whether ethnicity, gender, or life experience) and find how they can get the best out of each of them to reach that shared common goal.
6. Incredible Work Ethic – There is no such thing as 9-to-5 in journalism. In that industry, you don’t follow schedules, you follow stories. Talk to any journalist, and they will have countless stories about breaking news that required them to drop everything, about getting a phone call in the middle of the night (or during a personal engagement) to cover a story immediately, or to do more work than was previously required because of a laid-off colleague. The work will always get done when you hire a former journalist.
7. Improved Writing, Photography & Design – I’m ending on this one because it’s the most tangible. There is no such thing as a company that can’t use more good writers and editors. People who can speak and write succinctly will always be in demand. Similarly, visual design, videography and photography are critical to making anything more engaging and more polished. Hiring people with these backgrounds makes every company better.
About Lou Dubois
Lou Dubois is a content and creative leader with a background in print, digital, social and broadcast media at brands like NBC News, Sports Illustrated, Inc. Magazine, The Associated Press and more. Following stints at NBCUniversal and Hilton Worldwide, Lou is currently Senior Director of Content, Creative and HDTV at The Home Depot, and a co-host of the new podcast Beyond the Newsroom.