“If you are over 50 and someone offers you something that seems impossible, you should do it.”
That’s what Elizabeth Brackett, a correspondent and substitute host for WTTW 11’s nightly public affairs program “Chicago Tonight,” said she did when offered the opportunity to write a book.
Shortly after the FBI arrested Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich at his home in Chicago on charges of attempting to sell President Barack Obama’s soon-to-be vacated Senate seat to the highest bidder, Brackett had a book contract from a local publisher.
She took six weeks to write the book, recycling old reporter’s notes and assigning new research. The result is “Pay to Play,” which traces the background of corruption in Illinois and the mindset of Blagojevich.
Having spent 30 years as a journalist in Chicago, Brackett said she still had difficulty writing the book. “I was writing like a journalist,” she told an audience during a keynote session of the 2010 NFPW Conference in Chicago. “That didn’t make for good copy.”
She took a month off from her job to write and research, which included reviewing all of the courtroom notes. She was at the trial every day. In the end the jury was hung on 23 of the 24 counts. Blagojevich was found guilty of one count – lying to the FBI.
When asked what she thought about the case and trial, she said, “I think I can’t decide ‘Is this more than politics as usual?’ ”
“Did they [Blagojevich and his brother] take it to a criminal level?” she asked. “It’s still a question I have a hard time answering.”
Charles Darwin said those most responsive to change would survive. In today’s changing workplace, individuals must change to be relevant and visible.
Pam Stallsmith of Virginia Press Women shared her journey from long-time newspaper reporter to communications consultant for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond during a workshop at the 2010 NFPW Conference.
“I went from a noisy newsroom to a quiet office,” Pam says. “The first thing I realized is that I can’t use a newsroom voice.”
The biggest change for her was that journalism is reactive with lots of short-term deadlines. But “corporate communications is strategic and proactive,” she says.
She’s also learning more technology and has worked on several multimedia projects. “Interactivity is everywhere,” she notes.
Pam exemplifies why journalism is an ideal stepping stone for a career in journalism, says Lynn Hazan, who founded Lynn Hazan & Associates, which provides recruiting services for clients.
Some of the skills journalists bring to the table and, therefore, are skills that journalists should highlight when transitioning into communications, are –
- Interview skills
- Ability to make and see connections
- Writing – taking the complex and making it easily understood
- Ability to talk to many types of people
- Deadline oriented
- Critical thinking.
Who says young people won’t read newspapers?
Tran Ha, associate managing editor for RedEye, Chicago’s free daily newspaper and website, says RedEye was launched eight years ago to appeal to Chicagoans in their ‘20s and ‘30s who weren’t reading the paper.
“The graphics were bold,” she noted, and copy, while brief, was informative. “We have a good array of copy,” she said during a keynote session of the 2010 NFPW Conference in Chicago.
The website says its mission is “to provide our target readers with a daily buffet of news, trends, pop culture, sports entertainment and social buzz – served with a side of sass when appropriate.”
It’s a tall order to fill especially when RedEye readers also are picking up other publications. “People approach their news habit as an ala carte sort of thing,” Ha said. Despite that, RedEye distributes 250,000 papers daily Monday through Friday along commuter lines and all over the city. A free weekend edition is available through home delivery.
The RedEye staff of 30 does a lot of everything. “Innovation is built into our DNA,” Ha said. “It’s about not being afraid to try new things and to fail sometimes.”
The formula appears to be working.