Sunday, January 1, 2012

Corporate communications: July 20, 2008

When I left journalism nearly four years ago to work in the corporate world, I approached it as a grand anthropological experiment. I would immerse myself in this totally foreign culture and learn its language and its customs and get paid in the process. It has been fascinating. For example, I now know what this sentence means: Let's leverage these learnings in an offline conversation about how we can define metrics to measure outcomes and identify some next steps.

I use plain language, and I really encourage other folks to do the same. But it's a bit of an uphill battle. I mean, people in the corporate world really talk like that, y'all. Honestly, it's kind of hilarious. When it's not making me cry.

Leaving a job that needs no introduction
    During a casual cookout on a Friday night a few weeks ago, I was introduced to a friend of a friend who asked me what I do for a living.

    “I work in corporate communications,” I told him.

    He nodded, sipped his drink. I waited a couple of seconds.

    “But I was a newspaper reporter and editor for 13 years before that,” I added.

    “Really?” he said. “Cool.”

    And that, in a nutshell, is what I miss about my old job.

    Four months ago this week, I traded in my identity as a journalist for a shiny, new job as a corporate communicator. (Which isn’t even a term that makes sense. Corporate communicator? One of my goals in life is now to find a new label for what I do.)

    The new job comes with all the baggage of any new job (a whole lot to learn and a gnawing sense that I’m not learning it fast enough and will NEVER get the hang of some of this stuff.) But it also comes with a pretty dramatic shift in where I stand and how the world sees me — from one side of the media fence to the other, from a job that makes people say ‘Cool’ when I tell them what I do for a living to one that leaves them peering quizzically at me over their drinks.

    “Corporate communications?” they say. “What is that, exactly?”

    So this guy and I talked about what corporate communications is, exactly, and all the ways my life as a writer for a newspaper prepared me for my life as a corporate writer.

    “Is the money better?” he asked.

    I smiled. “Well, no one goes into journalism for the money,” I said. “My first job out of college in 1995, I made $15,000 a year. I had to live in my parents’ basement and commute 40 miles each way to work. When I got hired at The Chattanooga Times in 1997 I got a huge raise — they paid me $22,000.”

    His eyes widened. “How do they get people to do that?” he asked. “Why does anyone want to do that job?”

    I laughed. “Because when you’re at a party and someone asks you what you do for a living, telling them you’re a newspaper reporter is cool,” I said. “You get to be in the middle of everything all the time. And if you’re 23 years old and looking for a way to get paid to write, being a newspaper reporter is a great place to start.”

    But, I told him, when you’re 36 years old and the main support for a family of four, the ‘cool job’ card is trumped every time by the chance for more pay, new skills, better benefits and the prospect of being home on Christmas Eve.

    “But do you miss being a reporter?” he asked.

    And that’s the question, isn’t it?

    When I announced I was leaving journalism, when I walked out of the newsroom for the last time, when I peeled the sticker off my car that declared me “PRESS,” that was what I wondered, what my family wondered, what my colleagues wondered.

    Would I miss being a reporter?

    In my case, any separation anxiety I might have felt was softened by the fact that so many of my new colleagues started their careers in journalism, too. So I am still surrounded by people who share my professional roots (and a few of my quirks).

    And, I have come to realize in the last few months, I was ready to go. I had done some good work and made some dear friends, but a lot had changed, and I was ready for the next phase of my career to begin.

    “You know, I don’t miss it nearly as much as I thought I would,” I told him. “If a big news story breaks I always think about what must be happening in the newsroom. But I love my new job, and I have never once wondered if I did the right thing. Mostly I just miss it when someone at a party asks me what I do for a living.”

    And the truth is I don’t go to very many parties. 

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