The (very) transferable skills that can take journalists many places
by Yolanda Valery, Head of Digital Engagement, Ocado Group
Not so long ago I wrote a blog about the things I have learned from journalism that are helping me figure out content marketing. But every day that passes seems to teach me something new that I missed in that first analysis!
This week I gave an interview of sorts at an event I was invited to, and the whole thing left me with a nagging feeling of having sounded like a scratch record. When asked various questions about moving from one field to the other, understanding what was needed in my new job, and selling my business case, I found myself referring back to my years “on the beat”.
I am not sure how we ended up talking about those very early days, when barely sitting my second year at Uni I was hired alongside some of my classmates to work at the very first all-news radio station in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. I mentioned how lucky I had been for this to have been my first proper job – and for the specific circumstances surrounding it – as many lessons happened there and then.
The fact that the whole experience was unheard of in the country already tells you the deep learning curve we were all facing. Now consider what country that was. With one civil rebellion, two attempted coups, two banking crashes, one sitting president judged and deposed for corruption, we had plenty on our plates.
In the middle of all that, I was only technically an intern. A keen one. I’d raise my hand like Hermione Granger every time a reporter was ill or on holidays, hoping no one else was available to cover. One day, I was finally allowed.
As a journalist, you become an expert in finding, organising and effectively communicating complex information. If this isn’t a valuable skill (in many fields) I don’t know what is
Then again. And one more time. One day stationed at the presidential palace, the next chasing a police car. One day interviewing MPs, another in a press conference about the latest bank run in. Bring on what it’s a key survival skill, the ability to quickly adapt to changing situations, which requires:
- Snap assessment of the situation and what is needed, what you need to know and who you need to talk to
- Not being afraid, and just dive in
- Finding and getting help
…for I couldn’t have done it without the very kind colleagues who were prepared to lend me a hand when I could not even guess who the right person to talk to was. There was, too, a lesson of humility there involved. No one wants to assist the person who goes through life (or pressers) thinking they are cleverer (or can ask the cleverest question) than everybody else.
And then there was the lot that happened in between assignments (you would have three on average on any given day). Being a 24 hour station, reporters had to feed it like a hungry beast. You would go live either on site or while moving in the car, and you’d better start thinking of the packaged dispatch that you’d have to deliver later, if not filing while in motion.
Another set of skills needed to kick in:
- Ability to identify what is going on, aka “the story”
- Ability to articulate it in a simple way
- Ability to convey it in a confident, authoritative manner (even if you had no clue to begin with)
As I moved from the daily beat to other platforms, like newspapers, I learned to evolve from how to create that “minimum viable product” that is your radio dispatch onto more complex ground.
When at the Future of Martech by Engage CX Marketing conference I was asked how I went about understanding what my current company needs in terms of content marketing, I said that one of the key things I did was interviewing a lot of people.
Of course every experience is different, but the bottom line that unites them all is the fact that as a journalist, you become an expert in finding, organising and effectively communicating complex information.
If that isn’t a valuable skill in navigating a change of direction from publishing into content marketing, or indeed many other fields, I don’t know what is. (Journalists at crossroad, you can take the jump! Also, see some reasons why shouldn’t pose an ethical or otherwise internally conflictive issue in this interesting Poynter article)
I would go as far as saying that in my opinion, journalism should be a compulsory subject at school.
But then again I have never done teaching. Yet.