People choose to work as journalists for many different reasons: the thrill of working on deadline, the opportunity to speak truth to power, all that free pizza on election night.
They choose to leave for many different reasons, too: better hours, better pay, better … free pizza on election night.
Sadly, many journalists have had the decision to leave the profession made for them: Newspaper newsroom employment dropped 57% between 2008 and 2020.
If you’re a journalist wondering what your alternatives might be, here’s how to plan your move along with nine of our favorite jobs for ex-journalists.
Focus on Your Transferable Skills
Experienced journalists develop a number of skills that translate very well to other jobs, but not always in the most obvious ways.
- Research and analysis: Journalists rely on other sources as they determine the truth in a situation. They must interview people who have information, analysis, or opinions about a story or article, as well as analyze and interpret information based on their own knowledge about a situation. This skill comes in handy in virtually any role that requires understanding other people’s viewpoints, getting up to speed on a topic quickly, and translating that knowledge for other people.
- Communicating complex information: A journalist’s experience writing stories for a news organization can also be helpful in communicating to other audiences, both internal and external. Accuracy, style, and grammar are all important components of this, of course, along with the ability to weave the facts into a compelling story.
- Collaboration: Journalists rarely work alone. To be successful in their work, they must develop relationships with sources who provide tips and leads on stories. They must also collaborate with other writers, editors, photographers, and videographers, to publish a story.
Social Media Manager
Social media managers serve as the voice of their organizations across a variety of social media platforms.
The job frequently requires a mix of writing and design skills, and the ability to think creatively on your feet as you engage with people in the company’s voice. It helps to be tech-savvy and adept with data analytics.
Social media is constantly changing, which means staying on top of the latest trends and news.
Public Relations Specialist
This is often the first job that journalists looking to leave the field think of when they’re ready to make the jump. (We used to call it “the dark side.”)
But much like journalism has changed, so has public relations as a discipline. With fewer traditional reporters to pitch, they had to adapt to reach bloggers and influencers, as well. Indeed, they had to learn how to position their clients as influencers themselves. Public relations managers may also be in charge of monitoring and responding to social media questions and concerns.
Content marketers create written and multimedia content for a brand, as part of a broader marketing strategy to build awareness and generate demand for a product or service. The content is often educational and informative in nature and designed to cultivate an audience, rather than make a direct sale. Content marketers can work in-house, as part of agencies or as freelancers, and they frequently have their own bylines.
Lean Into Your Vertical Expertise
If you’ve covered a particular beat, such as business or technology, finding a role in the industries you used to report about is an easy way to transition to alternative careers for journalists. You already know the subject matter, where the growth areas exist and the business dynamics these companies face.
You should approach going deep into a vertical like you would a big story. You will have to network, both physically and virtually. Here’s where to start finding alternative jobs for journalists:
- Step up your social presence: Signal to future employers that you know the industry well and can hit the ground running.
- Reconnect with your sources: Reach out to people you’ve interviewed before to get their advice and discuss the latest industry trends.
- Attend events in your vertical: Whether online or in-person, networking will help you figure out what employers would be a good fit for and find jobs before they are posted.
No one tactic may land you a dream job in your preferred vertical. But the combination of source outreach, LinkedIn thought leadership, and networking online or in-person can increase your chances of finding work you love. Here are three growing roles that can provide depth to any journalist who wants to explore careers in a particular industry.
Customer Success Manager
A customer success manager is not a customer service representative. These people identify problems before they happen and make sure that clients are happy with the products and services they buy.
An excellent customer success manager treats their products and services as a beat. They know their strengths and weaknesses, looking to reduce the pain points for customers and highlight how their companies can grow their sales to meet demand. This position is ideal for a strategic problem-solver who works well with others.
Public Affairs Officer
Similar to public relations specialists for companies, a public affairs officer deals with bloggers, journalists, influencers and community members, usually for nonprofit or governmental organizations.
Many former journalists are public affairs officers because they understand how to communicate clearly with people and know the political and social dynamics of the institutions where they work. Great public affairs officers may be hard to find, but those who stand out are truly public servants, especially in times of crisis. This role may be desirable for journalists who miss the newsroom and the thrill of breaking news.
Market Research Analyst
Excellent market research can be as compelling as a front-page story. Market research analysts connect the dots for companies to help them sell their products and services. It’s less about raw data analytics and more about fitting all the pieces of information together to determine whether the market is headed next.
If journalists have a nose for news and are interested in particular industries, they can develop successful careers as market research analysts. You can dig deeper than you would on any feature story, and your insights may have more impact than an outsider's.
Head Back to School
Depending on your financial situation, it may be worth it to earn an advanced degree to pursue a position in another profession, such as law or accounting.
Keep in mind that the career switch may be expensive in the short run. The average annual cost of a public, out-of-state law school is $41,726, according to U.S. News and World Report. Private law school averages $49, 548 per year, and even public in-state law school costs an average of $28,264. So even on the low end, you will likely spend nearly $85,000 for a three-year law degree.
The cost of master’s degrees varies widely based on what and where you study, but expect to spend at least five figures for the credential.
Almost every journalist who has covered a trial has probably thought they could be a lawyer. The field of law is vast, and plenty of opportunities exist at law firms, governmental organizations and companies for a savvy journalist with a law degree.
Words matter in the legal profession, just like journalism. The difference is the average lawyer makes more than double what the average journalist makes, $86,670 per year compared to $42,600 per year, according to PayScale.
Some journalists hold the powerful accountable and so do auditors. Like a journalist, an excellent auditor pursues the hard facts and uses them to draw conclusions. For financial and investigative reporters, this can be a rewarding career switch. The four main types of auditors:
- External auditors work for external audit firms.
- Internal auditors are company employees.
- Forensic auditors investigate whether companies have engaged in financial misconduct.
- Government auditors evaluate whether public funds have been used wisely.
While working as an auditor usually requires a bachelor’s degree in accounting and finance, top positions require a master’s degree.
A consultant is simply someone who gives professional advice in a specific business area. If you’ve developed expertise in a particular area as a journalist, that advice is marketable and can potentially grow into a consulting business. And you may not need to go back to school to hang out your shingle as a consultant.
However, if you want to join the upper echelons of top management consulting firms, it’s helpful to have an MBA or specialized degree.
Ultimately, consulting is identifying business problems and providing clients the tools to fix them. Journalists use similar skills when telling gripping stories of mergers, acquisitions and corporate downfalls. Consultants just tell those stories to smaller audiences.
You have plenty of career options if you’re leaving journalism. You can focus on your transferable skills, lean into your vertical knowledge or head back to school to raise your market value. These nine positions are the best jobs for former journalists because they provide a strong chance to build on your skillset and continue to grow professionally. The future is yours to make.
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