Why every business should hire a journalist

By Laura Haight

I spent nearly all of my career in the media industry in both news and technology. Once people know that, I am often asked if newspapers are dead. Newspapers, perhaps. Journalism, absolutely not. 

I firmly believe this could be a golden age for journalism with new tools, incredible access, the ability to interact with our readers and the license to fully cover stories without the limitations of physical space. But at the same time, the profession will be exploring and expanding this brave new world with a lot fewer practioners. The Pew Research Center's Project for Excellence in Journalism reported in 2013 that the number of professional print journalists had fallen by 30 percent since 2000. The Bureau of Labor statistics anticipates a further 14 percent drop among print professionals by 2022. 

Bad news for newspapers. Great news for businesses. There is now a pool of journalists - many of them very experienced (yes, that's good for you - even though it may mean "older".) - who are looking for act two. 

Here are four reasons you should put a journalist on your team; and one caution.

Reason 1: Versatility. Reporters are constantly challenged to become well-versed and articulate on topics they know very little about. Not only do we have to learn about a subject, but we have to quickly know it well enough to articulate to a diverse audience with an average reading level of sixth grade. Journalists know how to find the right sources for "background", how to research, how to quickly assimilate and critically assess information and dig down to the heart of an issue. They are also articulate and can make themselves comfortable in any environment. Today, one might be covering a political figure; tomorrow a homeless shelter. Journalists know how to fit in to almost any situation and how to speak effectively to anyone. They are smart. And who doesn't want smart on their team. 

Reason 2: Deadline driven. Journalists get things done. OK, I'll admit that as an editor there were reporters who pushed the boundaries of deadlines. But most rarely breached them. If you tell a journalist that a project is due on Tuesday, you will have it on Tuesday. It's just the way we roll. 

Reason 3: Dedication. Once they commit to something, a good journalist  will do anything. Few journalists are called to risk their lives, but many do - and far too many have paid that price. But most have had their share of slogging through natural disasters, finding ways to get to story when the car broke down or the roads were closed, working in bad conditions, and generally just figuring out how to get over, around or through whatever barriers stood between them and their story. Journalists get it done. They do not come back to the office empty handed because their computer crashed.

Reason 4: Cost-effective. Journalism is not a highly paid profession. According to Pew, in 2013, the average salary for a print journalist was $35,600. That figure is reflective of the aging-down of the profession as a lot of more experienced and thus higher-paid journalists have been laid off. But still, no one ever decided to become a reporter because they would make a lot of money. 

I once interviewed a bank president about what they were looking for in entry-level positions. He told me he liked to hire English or Journalism majors because they "can think". "I can teach them the business, but I can't teach someone to be a critical thinker," he said. The comment really stuck with me since so often people scoff at humanities majors. This is especially true today when a major movement that re-envisions the concept of apprenticeships rather than a well-rounded education is gaining ground around the country. 

Here's a caveat: Journalists are trained to be skeptics, trained to ask questions and explore the veracity of the answers. They resist labels, silos and boundaries. The best ones never tire of peppering you with questions, each answer spurring yet another question. They value honesty and trust, more than slogans.

Want some depth on your team? Harness the intelligent, dedicated and versatile qualities of a journalist. The good news for you - there are a lot of them out there.