7 Reasons a Journalism Major Will Make You Successful in PR

By Colleen Kennedy

When I started college, I knew journalism was the major for me – I wanted to work at a newspaper. However, after taking one of the University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication’s public relations courses, I quickly changed my career path.

Since then, I’ve often debated the pros and cons of being a journalism major with students who attend universities that offer a public relations major. When they talked about their various PR courses, I was jealous. But now, four years later, I’m happy for the solid foundation my journalism major gave me as I embark on my post-grad internship at a public relations agency.

Here are 7 ways being a journalist has benefited me as a young PR professional:

Writing concisely and factually—When reporters read media pitches, they want the facts written in an interesting, yet factual way. A background in journalism teaches you how to place important and compelling information in your lead. Additionally, people’s attention spans are becoming shorter and shorter—and they don’t want to read lengthy pieces.

Learning how to edit copy and use AP Style—Employers constantly discuss how many candidates’ resumes are not given a second look due to typos or grammatical errors. The same is true for public relations writing: Why would a customer trust your company or brand when your writing has errors? Also, being familiar with AP Style will help you write press releases that reporters want to use.

•  Knowing the importance of accuracy and ethics—During my reporting classes, we learned the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics. With public relations scandals hitting the news frequently, defining the ethics of PR is an important issue facing the industry. Thanks to a familiarity with journalism ethics and media law, you will be one step ahead of your peers.

Being observant and knowing what makes a good story—Good journalists know the elements of a compelling story. This skill will help in public relations, because your media pitches and your news releases must be compelling. Being observant and able to gather facts to make a good story will help you write on topics that will interest reporters.

Learning how the media operates and what reporters’ needs are—After taking several journalism classes, I decided to spend a summer working at a newspaper, The Daily Iowan. While working in the newsroom, I learned the process of generating story ideas, and what information reporters need before agreeing to write a story. Now, as a PR professional, I can use my understanding of the reporting process to pitch to reporters effectively. I know that reporters need sources and are looking for different, creative stories.

Gaining the habit of reading global, national and local news—In my first SJMC class, Reporting and Writing, we had weekly quizzes on the New York Times and our local newspaper, The Daily Iowan. After the quizzes, I quickly got into the habit of reading both news outlets, as well as The Wall Street Journal. If you work in public relations, knowing what news is happening – and how you can use the news to help your client or company – is essential.

Writing in different formats and styles—In public relations, you can go from pitching media to writing a white paper to creating a media kit. Your writing must be adaptable.  First semester of my senior year, I took a course about blogging. I’ve also taken classes on reporting, writing for PR, and many others. The variety has helped strengthen my writing and made it adaptable – a skill that will help me greatly when I write for different clients at a PR agency.

Follow Colleen on Twitter @colleenrkennedy

AP Style Quick Tips

By Katelyn McBride

As newsletter editor of PRSSA, I’ve had the opportunity to improve my own writing skills through reading and editing  many other people’s work.  Although I am not an expert in AP or English grammar, (and have the worst spelling of anyone I know), there are a few common AP errors that I’ve noticed and want to address.

The Associated Press (AP) stylebook is like my bible. Knowledge of AP style is important for journalists and PR practitioners, which is why familiarity with this guide is critical! Here are some tips:

1. Lists: Place commas between list items, but do not place a comma before the last conjunction (and, or) if the series is made up of simple items.

Simple: Was the culprit Jack, Chuck, Dan or Nate?

Complex: Please fetch me the coffee cup on the counter, my notebook on the table, and  that piece of paper on the floor.

2. Academic majors: These are NOT capitalized unless it is a language.  I am majoring in journalism and Spanish. (In general, I see a lot of overcapitalization.)

3. Titles (of people): Don’t capitalize if it stands alone or isn’t directly before a name.

Example: Talk to Megan McIntyre, the PRSSA president.

Example: Talk to PRSSA President Megan McIntyre.

4. Titles (of things): Know the name of your own institution, and anything else important. You attend The University of Iowa, not the University of Iowa.  Respect a company’s choice of how it capitalizes or punctuates its name. Check the Web site!

Fleishman Hillard (or) Fleishman-Hillard

Stuff Etc. (or) Stuff Etc

Better Homes & Gardens (or) Better Homes and Gardens

*Hint: the second choice is right for all of these!

5. Cities/States: Let’s take California for example… CA is only an abbreviation when it’s a mailing address. If you are from San Diego, in the text it should read,

Blair is originally from San Diego, Calif., but now lives in Ann Arbor, Mich.

State abbreviations are something you probably need to refer to the AP stylebook for, unless you have a really good memory. (Oh, and there are eight states that are not abbreviated in text; Iowa is one of them!)

Hopefully you learned something about AP through these few tips, but remember to keep your stylebook handy in case you ever have a doubt on how to style something.