By Annabelle Blomeley
From ages 13 through 18, I went to an arts high school where I majored in creative writing. While there, I spent hours per day in writing classes, debated about commas and heard some of the worst writing prompts known to man. I mean, do we really need to write an explorative prose piece on our favorite historical figure?
By the time graduation rolled around, I was tired of the English language. The typing sounds of a keyboard made my ears ring. So, I did what any 18-year-old would do: I vowed that I was done with writing for good.
Old habits die hard, or rather, they sometimes don’t die at all. I made it to late August of my freshman year of college before writing again. It was a hot Alabama day, and I needed to join some clubs. The school newspaper was handing out print editions and stickers, and I decided to give it a shot.
I wrote two articles for The Crimson White’s culture desk, one about a local arts festival and the other a theatre show review. Then, the editors offered me the staff reporter position, which is a paid position with harder deadlines and more responsibility. As a freshman with no idea about what career I wanted, I wondered if journalism was the right career path for me.
I loved The Crimson White, and I begrudgingly loved to write, but journalism didn’t seem quite right. And then one day, a friend said, “What about public relations?”
What about public relations? I looked at the course catalog, did some research and declared a new major in PR that night.
At the beginning, PR and journalism seemed like opposite sides of the communications spectrum. But with more classes under my belt, including a news media class, it was clear that they have a lot more in common than I originally thought.
Aside from public relations practitioners writing press releases and working intimately with journalists to receive earned media coverage, the writing is practically the same, specifically in how both fields use AP style.
So, I stuck with The Crimson White and my public relations major, and I often feel like I have a step up from other PR students because of my newspaper background, as it has honed my writing skills, leadership qualities and more.
But why should other PR majors consider working for their school newspaper?
The most unifying part of the communications world is not the people or Adobe Suite or even social media. It’s AP style.
The Associated Press, founded in 1846, has earned the title of being one of the most reputable news agencies in the world. In addition to this, the organization also publishes stylebooks annually, basing its “writing style” on the premise of curating written pieces for public spheres like news writing and advertisement copy. According to AP, establishing a congruous “style” encourages word choice and sentence structure that allow the author to employ brevity, while also making the text accessible and accurate for readers.
Since the PR practitioner’s whole job is to maintain relationships and communicate effectively, not knowing how to write is simply not an option.
In fact, PR writing and news media writing are not all that different. They both use AP style, strive for the inverted pyramid structure and meticulously work to provide information that is accessible but informative at the same time.
Though the two writing styles are similar, there is a key difference. PR practitioners are known to focus their attention on building the brand image of their client, while a journalist will place greater value on remaining objective. However, according to TEAM LEWIS, a global public relations and communications consultancy, data and facts make PR writing much stronger than solely opinionated written work since it can help build credibility and capture media attention.
So, all in all, students can gain a lot of writing experience from their student newspapers. According to the University of Southern California, the two most important skills for a public relations practitioner are communication and writing ability. Learning how to string words together properly and efficiently is not an inherent skill; it requires practice and training, which is what student newspapers are for.
Leadership and communication skills
Communication is supposed to be what PR practitioners are good at. However, interpersonal communication is also important for nearly anyone entering the job field.
According to Indeed, strong interpersonal communication means you can build relationships with co-workers, solve problems that arise, communicate your ideas effectively and collaborate with others.
In a newsroom, working with others is the name of the game. In fact, newsrooms have clear hierarchies, starting with the editor-in-chief and trickling down to desk editors and staff reporters. The people in the newsroom are the ones who edit your work, so you have to know how to respond to them and create open communication, regardless of whether you’re the writer or the editor.
The newspaper is a quick and slightly cutthroat environment. If, as an editor, one of your writers turns in a story that isn’t timely or well written, it’s your job to call the shots and then communicate with them afterward so the same mistake isn’t made again.
In the PR world, it’s not uncommon to work in teams or to constantly be working with other professionals, such as marketing practitioners or the human resources team. For example, a crisis communications team will not only work within a larger PR team when their client is in trouble with the public, but they most likely will work with lawyers, HR and more to maintain a brand and its relationships. Being in a newsroom is not so different from working with a PR team, so students can get crucial communication and leadership skills that will look great on a résumé.
Public relations practitioners rely heavily on maintaining relationships with their publics, which includes the media. Through journalists, PR practitioners can basically get free advertising in all types of media, including newspapers, magazines, television news and more. In return, journalists get content for their media outlets, which is often made easy by PR people who provide visuals, press releases and contact information.
At The Crimson White, I’ve worked in every position on the culture desk, which produces work ranging from movie reviews to in-depth features on people making a difference. In my current job as culture editor, I get the weirdest emails from PR people around the world, and whether I take the article or not is dependent on that original correspondence. For lots of the pitches, it’s obvious that the person didn’t even look up what kind of newspaper we are.
As a journalist, I don’t like having to sift through bad pitch emails, but I do like getting good pitches that I think could make great stories. As a public relations student, I try my best to send content to news outlets that I would want to receive as a news media editor.
In this way, working on a student newspaper puts you in the mind of the journalist. As journalism shifts and changes with the times, many journalists today are working with smaller teams causing heightened responsibilities, meaning many journalists are doing the work of an entire team and need all the help they can get. So, whatever PR practitioners can do to make the journalists’ lives a little easier, their PR job will also become easier.
I rely on several PR people across the community to give me quality press releases and contacts. Whether it’s the PR person in charge of the art galleries around town, the local theatre PR team, or just the PR students who ask me to cover events or fundraisers, the relationship between the journalist and PR person is important for both parties.
So maybe think about getting in the mind of a journalist and joining your student newspaper. When I joined The Crimson White and the UA Department of Advertising and Public Relations, I had no clue just how well these two things would fit together.
In short, I failed my resolution to stop writing those years ago. I failed badly, but I found a writing style that fit me and prepared me for a world beyond academia. If you’re like me and enjoy writing but not the novel or poetry kind, then PR might be the field for you.