Leaving journalism could make you a better journalist

Aug 12, 2014Original Thinking

Great journalists are not only incredible at their craft, but they also excel at analysis.

They aren’t just quality interviewers, researchers and writers. They also understand the world, make connections between seemingly disparate information and can explain a subject in a way that better reflects its true nature.

This should go without saying, but we like to believe that anyone who asks the right questions can arrive at the right answers. We act as if craft trumps all.

But anyone who’s had their work improved by a veteran editor knows that a deep well of knowledge can totally change a story. Even today when it seems like you can just google any answer, having your own memories and experiences to draw on is a distinct advantage.

That’s why leaving journalism could make you a better journalist.

Experience in a different industry can give you a much more comprehensive understanding of how organizations work. Experience in marketing specifically can help you better understand marketers’ motivations, which aren’t always what journalists think. Being much closer to the source, you’d also be able to see firsthand how journalists’ biases and inaccuracies truly look from the outside world.

It’s easy to see then how you would be a better journalist if you were to ever return. You’d be much more savvy at knowing which stories to pursue, which questions to ask and which answers to believe.

This jumping from hack to flack and back might have seemed like an impossibility at some point in the past, but as the lines between these professions blur, it seems to be more common. Consider Buzzfeed’s Kate Nocera or the Wall Street Journal’s Steve Russolillo, both of whom left great journalism jobs for communications roles elsewhere, only to return not long after, and probably with a fuller view of how the world truly operates.

In fact, a truly brilliant news organization would give its reporters sabbaticals to try other careers. Call it, “Reporters Without Professional Borders.” It could actually do a lot of good for reporters, and the public that relies on them for truly accurate information.