The shrinking press corps might strike fear into reporters’ hearts, but many journalists who change professions are happy with the career change. In recent weeks, the Capitol press corps has been reduced significantly with the departure of at least nine reporters from various news-media organizations who were laid off or took buyouts.
Some reporters are now searching for a new profession and might consider crossing over to what many journalists call “the dark side” of public-relations work. However, many former journalists often find that the dark side isn’t all that dark–and the pay’s better, too.
When reporters do go into PR work, many find they like it for the same reasons that make journalism interesting: They say it serves the public interest and gets important information out to the public.
Ray Sotero, communications director for Sen. Jenny Oropeza and a former reporter for the Sacramento Bee and Gannett News Service, is happy with his change of profession. Sotero says he left his position at the Bee in 2002 after 22 years as a reporter. He says Robert Hertzberg, then speaker of the Assembly, “made me an offer I couldn’t refuse.”
“I wanted a career challenge. I was ready for a change and wanted to be on the inside [of the political scene],” says Sotero. Part of that offer was a bigger paycheck. “I always loved reporting. I just wished it paid better,” he added.
Andrew Lamar, the communications director for Senate Pro-Tem Don Perata, spent almost 20 years working as a reporter before taking a position in the Building. Lamar came to Perata’s office in January 2006. “I felt like trying something new,” says Lamar, a former reporter at the Contra-Costa Times.
“You learn excellent job skills [in journalism], but it just doesn’t pay as much as other industries” says Lamar. He says that didn’t bother him for the years he was a journalist. “As a young journalist, I was totally committed. I would live off any scraps.” He adds that the skills learned in journalism translate well to other jobs.
“When you are ready to move on, it’s easy to find a job that will pay you more afterward. And you learn to write and research quickly and think clearly,” he said. “I found being a journalist very satisfying emotionally.”
Working for Perata, he said, involves “a different type of strategic thinking. “[Perata’s staff] are trying to achieve something and have to figure out how we are going to achieve that goal.” In journalism he says “it was more about the chase [for information].”
For Sotero, being a reporter “is like driving a motorcycle. It’s a real high.” He says making deadline and digging up information is an adrenaline rush. Sotero says “a boring job is death,” but that “in the news room, it’s always already 3 o’clock.”
Sotero says Capitol PR provides excitement, as well. “Working with a dynamic personality [like Hertzberg] was as frenetic as working in a newsroom,” he says.
Sotero entered journalism “to shine a light on what is going on and protect the public interest.” He says working for a legislator does that in a different way than being a journalist.
“You can shape public policy in both capacities,” says Sotero, but he says the difference is that “elected officials can advocate for the common good.” Sotero says his political views are similar to Orporeza’s, and that as a staffer he can help advocate for issues that are important to him, such as anti-cancer bills, anti-pollution bills and gay rights, in a way that he couldn’t as a reporter.
“In some ways my worst suspicions have been confirmed about the political goings-on and what motivates people. On the other hand, many people here work very hard.