Agencies take new course on hiring J-school graduates

Hiring mid- to senior-level staff with journalism backgrounds is nothing new for PR firms. However, agency executives are increasingly looking at recent graduates of journalism schools to fill junior-level positions.

Hiring mid- to senior-level staff with journalism backgrounds is nothing new for PR firms. However, agency executives are increasingly looking at recent graduates of journalism schools to fill junior-level positions.

Theresa McDonnell, EVP and chief consumer strategist at Kaplow, says the demand “is somewhat heightened” as the industry adjusts to the client expectations created by social media and content generation.

“Every brand today is like its own media company,” she explains. “There is a demand in-house and within PR firms for people who can create interesting and cutting-edge content on social media. We need people tweeting, making Facebook updates, and writing blog posts in a two way-dialogue. Journalists are great content curators, so we'll see more of a demand for journalists in many types of fields – corporate, PR, advertising, and traditional media houses.”

Journalism schools, in turn, have recognized the entry-level career pathway for graduates has expanded beyond traditional media. Loyola University Chicago introduced a completely revamped journalism program two years ago, which included an integration of digital technology into every course. New curricula offerings were also introduced, including one about mobile platforms and another on coding of online content.

“We haven't replaced all the substantive stuff we teach – such as how to write a lead  – but we had to add things such as how to tweet out a story,” says Don Heider, dean for Loyola School of Communications, which offers a bachelor's degree in both journalism and advertising/PR. “Our basic reporting course, for example, is no longer reporting for print, but across platforms. We teach students to take the same story, figure out how to write it for print and online, and tweet about it.”

“Then they have to post all the different versions as part of their grade,” he adds.

Loyola undertook the curriculum review to keep pace with immense change in media, “but also because we're placing students as social media managers for organizations, branded products, and PR firms,” continues Heider. “Even some news organizations no longer call reporters by that [name]. They now call them ‘channel builders.'”

Since 2009, students at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in New York have had the option of taking a fully converged curriculum or choose a media specialty. Prior to that, “students were required to select a media track in print, broadcast, or interactive journalism”, says Amy Dunkin, director of academic operations at the school.

Columbia University's Graduate School of Journalism established the Brown Institute for Media Innovation, made possible by an $18-million donation from former Cosmopolitan editor Helen Gurley Brown.

Earlier this month, Mark Hansen, longstanding visiting researcher at The New York Times R&D Lab and a consultant to other media organizations, was named East Coast director of the institute. According to a release, Hansen will “teach courses that cast data, algorithms, and computation as essential ingredients in new journalistic practice.”

As more and more schools update their PR programs, the communications industry is taking an increasingly serious look at graduates coming out of journalism schools.

“The skills of PR people and journalists are somewhat similar, but I feel you don't learn PR in a classroom,” suggests McDonnell. “Sometimes that is hard for someone who majored in PR to understand. They come in thinking they are ahead of the curve and don't appreciate the value of hands-on experience as much as someone with a different background, whether it's journalism or politics.”

Heather Mao, HR director for The OutCast Agency, agrees journalism graduates can bring a different perspective, particularly given the changed curriculum. The firm typically has 10 to 13 interns year-round. “We also see a lot of journalism students and graduates” apply for placements, she adds.

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