From reporting to pitching: A journalist pivots to public relations

Gerald is reporting

Credit: Adam Lau/News Sentinel

By Gerald Witt

I was a PR major for about 15 minutes in undergrad.

That’s what I told my ink-stained friends in newsrooms when Cortney Piper added me to her team in 2020. Those same buddies cranked out copy with me on election night deadlines, trudged through muddy fields to cover disasters, and kicked sense into me on occasion over 15 years in news. We frequently ran into media relations people on the job, and often treated them with suspicion. So, naturally, my old newsroom pals ribbed me about joining “the dark side.”

But pigeonholing media relations to “the dark side” is tantamount to calling journalists by the oxymoron “fake news.” Both generalizations are false and damaging. If journalism is one side of the media coin, public relations is the flipside. They need and help each other. Looking back on my newsroom days, some of my best sources worked in media relations. They had access to the institutions and individuals who make news. They smoothed the path to help me get information, quickly, on deadline. Outside of my newsroom coworkers, PR professionals best understood the needs of journalists.

Now, as I help clients get in front of journalists who cover them, I remember those people who helped my reporting back in the day. The needs of a client and a journalist are often aligned, though it may not appear obvious at first glance. Media relations professionals, like my  team members at Piper Communications, step in to help journalists and sources connect.

Sometimes, yes, media relations requires the unglamorous work of pounding the pavement to make connections with journalists in the field. And yeah, there are times when doors close in your face. Journalists learn early, however, to find another way in – just as we do in media relations. Much more often, media relations is about compiling and crafting a message for an audience. Which is exactly what journalists do. And both fields are rooted in accuracy, with the shared goal of communicating. Yeah, there are hard heads in newsrooms and in PR, but there’s no need to generalize either as bad actors. Journalists and media relations pros share similar goals more often than not. Reporting a news story and pitching a news story are remarkably similar experiences.

Specifically at Piper Communications, in my short time here, we have the added bonus of working with clients who are making the world a little better than they found it. Our clients are research leaders in technology and energy sectors. We help entrepreneurs with groundbreaking business ideas. Other clients also educate and help people have better, more sustainable lives. Personally, that is satisfying. Professionally, the work itself has been as challenging and rewarding as those long nights covering election results. 

Find out more about Gerald Witt, Piper Communications’ Media Relations Manager, here.