Every once in a while, I stumble upon something I wrote in the past. It’s always interesting to read the words that once flowed from my mind, and to put myself back in the time and place when I was speaking my truth.
Now that I’m several years out of college, this piece—an interview-based midterm paper that I wrote in my final semester for a communications course—is especially interesting. I spoke with a former journalist, and talked about his experiences jumping ship to the public relations industry.
I didn’t know it at the time, but I would also follow this exact path. I’d look for jobs at newspapers in my new city to no avail, and I’d luck out with an entry level public relations position. I’d learn the basics, call on my journalism foundation, and work there for three years. A pandemic would hit, I’d leave my first big-girl job, and I’d start over completely, with my own writing business.
I love reading this paper; remembering that I had hope and trust in what I could do, without really knowing. I had confidence and faith, and some pretty great advice.
28 March 2017
The Intersection of Journalism and Team Work
The communication field is inclusive and vast—the expansive list of opportunities for those who study communication methodologies range from marketing to health care to publishing. I decided to tailor this project to my own passions—a mix of writing, journalism, and public relations. Chris Casey, the University of Colorado Denver’s Web Content Manager, is a person whose professional career has spanned each of these areas.
Casey is responsible for the CU Denver Today web-letter and acts as an assistant editor for the promotion-based publication. He’s been working for the school for about five years, first as a media specialist generating stories to external sources before transitioning to internal public relations. Long before that, however, Casey was a journalist. He worked for several daily and weekly presses—notably, The Rocky Mountain News and The Denver Post—for over 25 years. Though he joked about “moving to the dark side” of public relations, Casey also acknowledged that he now works as a marketing storyteller, which utilizes many of the same skills.
I met Casey several years ago when he agreed to pay a professional visit to the then-named UCD Advocate (now the CU Denver Sentry), our university’s weekly newspaper. At the time I was a copy editor for the press, before moving up to Managing Editor and now Editor in Chief. He came to our pitch meetings on several occasions to give paper critiques, tell his story of passage into the newspaper industry, and conduct workshops on skills like interviewing and chasing story ideas. He was always generous with sharing helpful hints and details and giving students information necessary for paving their careers. Casey’s meetings were inspiring for me, as I was in the formative years of self discovery, and figuring out what I wanted to do.
At the time of meeting Casey, I was an English Writing major who loved to write, but wasn’t yet sure how my area of study would fit into the job market. When I applied to work for the newspaper, I wasn’t expecting anything more than a stepping stone for getting my name published. However, I quickly spiraled into love with the world of print publication, almost instantly. That’s the nature of a turn-around deadline; you’re either in the game or being ushered out the door.
Editing has become one of my great loves, along with producing content weekly, connecting to a community, and conducting all of the facets of journalism—pitching stories, collaborating with editors, interviewing, creating content. I started taking more communication courses, which suddenly seemed just as relevant as my English ones. At the end of last semester, one short term away from graduating, I realized that I was just shy of two classes to declare a minor in communication. In a matter of weeks I’ll be headed into a job search frenzy, looking for communication-related opportunities, hopefully utilizing my writing education.
Though I only heard Casey speak a handful of times, his stories were illuminating. I want to do what he has always done: tell stories. It doesn’t really matter to me if I work for a community newspaper or produce a community newsletter or work as a media coordinator for a business, as long as I am able to use the cultivation of my education and communication experiences.
In regard to skills used in Casey’s current position, he stressed that communication is constant. “It’s a lot of what you already do and are already familiar with,” he said. “It’s producing content based on audience analysis, all while working in a group setting to do so. There’s a reliance on skill, but there’s also a dependence on team.” Casey essentially split his work into two categories: journalism skills and team skills.
According to Casey, the line between journalism and public relations is thin, which makes the transition very easy as journalists cross over into PR work, like he did several years ago. He shared that his decision for change had to do with his own experiences with seeing publications he cared for and respected losing the battle to adaptation and technology. Casey still has the highest regard for journalism, and thinks that it’s morally one of the greatest public services. He noted that it’s one of the rare industries of truth, without corporate consequence. He tries to see his work for CU Denver as a version of that—his goal is to tell the broader story of the university.
Casey works to do all of the things a journalist might. He writes, interviews, and develops stories, though his are all tailored to a specific angle. He meets deadlines and busts out copy. He edits the work he receives. He takes advantage of different forms of social media, from Twitter to Facebook to Instagram. He relies heavily on email. He meets with sources and builds lasting relationships and connections.
Each of these aspects are rooted in both verbal and nonverbal communication. The verbal aspects are typically tied with source work in journalism. Casey mentioned seeking out potential sources and meeting with them for interviews, then maintaining contact to create a lasting connection. He spoke to the importance of making a good impression and being agreeable, which ties into different aspects of verbal communication discussed in class. For example, code switching is relevant: while conducting an interview, it’s important to change the way you speak to match the situation, by being professional and asking appropriate questions. Another example is the goal of these interactions, which are to be informative and interactional. It’s also important to incorporate confirming messages that are validating, so as not to be destructive in the midst of an interview. Last, you have to be sensitive to the other person and whatever power dynamics might be influencing the communication, such as gender, education, status, and region, and do everything in your power not to isolate them or add to these divisions of power. As a seeker of information, it’s important to be a trusted, reliable, and comfortable outlet for these sources to speak to.
The rest ties into nonverbal communication, which is the majority of journalistic skills. The primary objective and function is to communicate information, and relies heavily on language and how it’s used and interpreted. Journalism requires a hefty amount of training and practice in writing appropriately, especially in AP Style or through context-appropriate formatting (like an inverted pyramid for news stories versus feature-writing for arts and leisure). There’s careful consideration that goes into crafting a story, remembering that there are ways to convey meaning beyond what is said.
Team dependence is the other division of skill. Casey described his job as a conglomeration, where people come together with individual skills to create something together. This process combines many meetings, where team members come together to pitch different story ideas (this is also a journalism skill) and assign different stories and have dialogue on team operations. There is heavy interaction with other staff, by reporting to higher-up editors or by giving aid and resources to complete each article. He stressed that deadline orientation is one of the most important aspects of his job, which is reinforced through team communication as well as individual orientation—without the effort of a single writer, the entire project falls through.
In a team setting, group communication takes the focus. Like in any project, there are task roles and task communications, as well as relational roes. Casey believes that each person on his team has a mixed task role—everyone has to wear a different hat, whether it’s to be an elaborator that explains and clarifies ideas, or an initiator who is responsible for proposing new ideas. The task communication in his office, and field in general, are focused on getting the job done and articles written, solving problems as they come up, and analyzing their performance on a weekly basis. Relational roles come in time, as Casey said that it takes a little while for team members to get to know one another and their writing styles and work ethic. These team skills are not unique to writing fields—collaboration is a staple in nearly every field that requires interaction with others.
I have thoroughly enjoyed this assignment, especially conducting the interview with Casey. He is encouraging and helpful, and his experiences align with my own goals. Our conversation allowed me to ask some of the questions I’ve always wondered, like if he regretted leaving newspapers or the big differences between journalism and public relations from someone who had done both. I learned about his feelings toward technology and how it has affected him personally; it’s interesting to consider that a long-term industry that was once considered the most crucial resource for citizens crumbled in a matter of years, and to look at how much technology has both shaped and shaken up the entire world of journalism. For Casey, it came down to seeing the low sustainability around him and making a “now or never” decision.
Even though it was a little sad to hear this side of things, Casey was not bitter—nor did he condemn the future of the press. He told me that as long as there are reporters and editors willing to accept the changes that technology, like social media or online platforms, bring, the field will continue to be held up by truth-seeking individuals.
For the public relations side, it was reassuring to hear that the industry is not necessarily seedy or truth-bending. Casey framed it as audience segmentation and a concise methodology for editing and framing, which highlight things rather than expose. It’s a different context, and I appreciated both his love for and expertise in both fields.
Overall, it was reassuring that the skills Casey discussed and the factors of his position are experiences that I also have. In my four years of working in the newspaper industry, my experiences have been the same as Casey’s—I’ve gone to countless pitch meetings, met thousands of deadlines, held numerous interviews, written hundreds of articles, and have been working with group dynamics since I entered college. If I learned anything, it’s that I’m capable. I have the right kind of training to make me successful in the occupation I pursue; I’ve been grooming myself for this path, and I’m ready to start looking for opportunities come May 13. Shout out (and many thanks) to Chris Casey for helping push my discover.