In Depth

Thinking Outside the Newsroom

Non-News Organizations Becoming an Attractive Option for Journalists

If you’re out there wondering whether you’re going to have a job in 2009, whether you’re going to be able to continue as a news professional in these tough economic times, it might be time to market yourself in a whole new way. There are non-news organizations such as museums, foundations and think tanks that might be a viable option for reporters.

“The institutions of journalism are changing very dramatically and some are disappearing, unfortunately, or being transformed into something that’s almost unrecognizable,” said Adam Glenn, independent digital media consultant and co-founder of iReporter.org, a citizen journalism training organization. He is a prime example of a journalist who has diversified outside the mainstream media. “I’m a digital media consultant who works with news organizations and foundations, other institutions, academic and otherwise.”

Mr. Glenn advises news professionals to begin knowledge-banking. “You can look for fellowships, which give you tools that you’ll use immediately or topical expertise that you can add to your beat as a full-timer or freelancer,” said Mr. Glenn. “Look for things that will enhance your skills over time, like newsgathering production tools that you may not use right now, but over time they will come in handy. You can begin to produce either for news organizations or other organizations right on the Web. That’s one of the beauties of the Web, of course. You can take the skills and tools that you learn and apply them directly to your own portfolio material on the Web.

“There is a whole journalistic industry cropping up with connection to new media with the Internet,” he added. “The bottom line is to consider journalistic work with non-news organizations. So after you’ve asked yourself what it is in journalism you want to accomplish, what are the important things you want to do, then ask yourself where can I do that—what organizations, what settings.”

Even though nonprofits are subject to the same tough economic times, there are opportunities there. “What I have found in the last several years is that many non-news organizations like museums and foundations, or any educational institution, or any with an educational mission, is often very interested in applying the values of journalism through the information they convey,” said Mr. Glenn. “They want information which is accurate, verified, complete and objective, which is clearly and interestingly communicated to the audience. These are all the things journalists do in news settings, and they can do it as well in non-news settings.”

Many of these organizations are on the Web, and they have publications of various kinds for educational purposes. Journalists who have Web or new-media skills can find employment with these groups. “They need to move their information onto the Web to expand their bases,” explained Mr. Glenn.

“Some institutions don’t even know they need journalism, and you need to tell them. I’ve worked with charitable foundations where I made a very strong case that they should provide what is in effect a constant news flow to their community because there’s so much going on in their community that they needed basically to report on the field for their members.”

Working in a non-news field is not without some drawbacks for news professionals. Public relations, for instance, puts a journalist on the other side of the story. Representing an industry could put you in a position of working for a group that lobbies on behalf of a cause that might not match your beliefs. “Anything that in my personal judgment is non-journalism … I stay away from,” said Mr. Glenn.

“Many journalists don’t mind doing public relations work from time to time,” he added. “Sometimes you have to put food on the table. Some people may not want to do any work with a non-news organization of any kind. People may be comfortable doing work with an organization that lobbies, as long as they’re not involved in the lobbying. It’s a real fine line to toe.”

The key to expanding the opportunities for work in the non-news realm is to get viral. “You have to advertise your work using all the tools available, including social networking sites like Facebook and MySpace. If you have video on your site, have a YouTube posting as well. Then people can pick up your YouTube video and embed it in their sites,” said Mr. Glenn.

“Journalists are typically not very good about this. Most of us grew up in a world where we created the work, gave it to the news organization and then it was their job to market it. Now things have changed. Even if we’re in a news organization, we as individual journalists have to be aware of how our work is being seen, where it’s being seen, how effectively it’s being seen, and we have to ourselves be activists for our own work. We have to find every venue for our work and the reason is obvious: People no longer come to you. You have to go to them.”