The workplace has long provided a bevy of stories for reporters. But with layoffs and personal concerns permeating all sectors, including media, David Ward finds those who cover careers even more steadfast.Whether we like it or not, there's a tendency to define people not by what they do at home, but how and where they spend their workdays.
And, it seems, more and more workers are turning to books, coaches, and the media for advice on how to manage their careers.
Surprisingly, the career beat is relatively new. Only two decades ago, before the mass rise of dual-career families and during a time when many people remained loyal to the same company for the bulk of their working lives, careers were something that only athletes and entertainers had.
Beginning in the 1980s, and continuing through the end of the '90s, job-jumping and climbing the professional ladder became commonplace, as were massive layoffs during economic downturns. Reporters covering careers suddenly had numerous options and an audience hungry for information.
Career coverage in boom or bust
Career beat reporters rode the boom years, devoting coverage not just to the complexities of stock options and other compensation, but also to issues such as worker burnout and achieving the right work/life balance in those frenetic economic times. Now career-themed stories are far more sober and are more likely to report on how to ensure you're not included in the next round of layoffs or how to get your career back on track if you have lost a job.
In good times or bad, career journalists can provide readers with that all-important "news you can use,
which has become a growing sub-segment of overall business reporting. Virtually every major business magazine, along with the vast majority of large market newspapers, has at least one dedicated careers/jobs reporter. Some, such as Fast Company, make career guidance one of their main themes.
The format of career reporting is varied, ranging from macro-trend stories on the unemployment landscape, to how-to pieces on crafting the right resume or right way to ask for a raise, all the way to "Dear Abby" style columns to answer career-related questions.
Perhaps the most surprising thing about this beat is the breadth of publications now writing on career issues. "We've had calls from Glamour, Cosmo, and Money,
notes Manya Rossignoli Chait, VP with Schwartz Communications, which represents Salary.com. "These are publications where you might not expect it, but the reporters there are really interested in this."
Part of the reason for this interest is that for many reporters the issue of careers has taken on a more personal meaning, given the ad slump of the past few years and its impact on journalism jobs. "Just like any other industry, there has been a lot of turnover among career journalists, especially with the number of outlets that have ceased publication or cut staff,
says Kelly Sullivan, account supervisor with Weber Shandwick Worldwide's Boston office, which represents job site Monster.com.
This tumult in journalism has made it harder to keeping track of who's still on the career beat. However, Sullivan adds, "Over the long term there is still a core group of key reporters very focused on this beat."
Among the most well-respected are syndicated writers Carol Kleiman of the Chicago Tribune, author Joyce Lain Kennedy; USA Today's Stephanie Armour; David Leonhardt of The New York Times; Carrie Johnson of The Washington Post; and a host of Wall Street Journal staffers, including Rachel Silverman, Carlos Tejada, Kris Maher, Joanne Lublin, and Sue Shellenberger.
When to approach the media
Careers tend to be a year-round story, but the PR pros we spoke to say there are some times that better lend themselves to these stories than others. One popular theme each spring is the job prospects for new college graduates. Chait says she can position Salary.com executives as experts for a story on top-level companies giving "apology bonuses
to recent MBAs to whom they couldn't offer immediate positions. That story garnered play in key outlets such as NBC Nightly News, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.
The other prime opportunity is when the Department of Labor issues its monthly employment figures. Sullivan says Monster.com often provides reporters its own Monster Intelligence Data along with access to founder and chairman Jeffrey Taylor to add depth and insight into what those numbers mean and to identify the hot categories within the government's statistics.
Barry Lawrence, director of corporate communications at CareerBuilder.com, adds that summer can be a good time for stories on how much vacation a manager should take, while Valentine's Day is a chance to pitch stories on how an office romance can impact a career.
Lawrence also likes pegging career-themed stories to breaking news. "When (basketball player) Latrell Sprewell attacked his coach, we put out a piece on what would happen if you attacked your boss,
he says. "And, of course, the answer is you'd get fired."
There were a spate of career-centric stories after September 11. "It really changed the world, and we started to look at our job seekers and ask them how their outlooks had changed, how their fears and concerns about safety had changed,
Lawrence says. "That was more of a long-term pitch that we were quite successful with."
Life at the top
Not all career stories are centered on the masses competing for entry level to mid-management positions. There has long been a certain reader fascination with the perks and pressures of the business elite. Career reporters are responding to that as well.
Fleishman-Hillard's Matthew Doering, who represents recruitment agency Heidrick & Struggles, stresses the top-level executive recruiter will not participate in gossipy stories about which company chiefs may be on their way out, or the compensation package of some new CEO. "But we can look at general trends and provide a certain understanding of the challenges a top exec faces,
he says. "And we can also look at issues such as year-end bonuses, or the best way to attract and retain the people needed to make a company successful. Heidrick & Struggles has a certain insight on that, and the media is still interested in hearing about it."
While little good has come from the recent Wall Street downturn, it has helped to slowly push the general interest business journalist away from stock-picking stories and more toward workplace and career stories. This is especially true for radio and TV outlets. "There's a lot more interest now in slower-paced features,
One recent trend Lawrence was able to pitch successfully was the return of job titles. "People these days aren't necessarily getting more money, so they should be going for title,
he says, adding his outreach to reporters "was not really even a pitch per se. It was more an assembling of knowledge to have on hand.
Nonetheless the concept piqued curiosity and resulted in coverage in The Washington Post, Bloomberg Radio, and other outlets.
WHERE TO GO
Newspapers: The Wall Street Journal; The New York Times; Chicago Tribune; San Francisco Chronicle; Los Angeles Times; USA Today; weekly regional and local business journals
Magazines: Fast Company; Time; Business Week; Fortune; Newsweek; Employment Review; Business 2.0; Forbes; Esquire; Entrepreneur
Trade outlets: Electronic Recruiting News; Workforce; Editor and Publisher; HR magazine TV & Radio: CNBC; MSNBC; CNN; CNNfn; Bloomberg Radio; NPR
Websites: CareerJournal.com; Businessweek.com; Recruiter.com; HR.com.