I’ve wanted to be a journalist since I was 15. In 2008, at age 25, that dream became a reality. I spent the next decade working as a videographer, reporter, and editor, for HuffPost, The Jerusalem Post, and others.
I worked from courtrooms and schools and abortion clinics and newsrooms in New York and in Europe, the Middle East, and Africa. In 2016, after a year and a half freelance reporting from Jerusalem, I moved to Chicago and got into PR.
The Journalist’s Dilemma
I’ve heard business journalism called “journalism lite” because it lacks the gumshoe muckraking and speaking truth to power of more “authentic” journalism.
From more pessimistic speakers, I’ve also heard it compared to a drain: all reporters are circling around it and eventually everyone gets sucked in. (Ouch.)
But if that’s true, then PR – from the perspective of the diehard field correspondent – is the drain within the drain: No journalist wants to do PR. But it’s always there, hovering just yonder, with its siren song of better salaries and job stability.
A Shift to Match a Shifting Life
On one hand, yes, I felt like once I’d accomplished the most extreme version of my journalistic dreams (being a foreign correspondent in the Middle East) I could safely put reporting to the side and free myself to pursue a more practical (if somewhat less romantic) way of making a living.
But honestly, the whole renegade journalism thing didn’t pan out the way I imagined. I thought I wanted to be hunkered in trenches with shells whistling overhead, perpetually on the road, a beat-up notebook stuffed in the pocket of my bomber jacket, passport covered in exotic stamps.
In reality, that lifestyle was exhausting and uncomfortable. The apartment my wife Adele and I shared near Jerusalem’s central market wasn’t even watertight: it leaked when it rained. The WiFi was poor. And all our furniture was third-hand because it didn’t make sense to buy new stuff that we’d need to ship to the U.S. when it was time to move home.
Much of this discomfort came from having so little income. If freelancing from Jerusalem had been better paid, we could have rented a nicer apartment or bought a more comfortable mattress.
But freelance reporting was so poorly paid it was unsustainable from the get-go. I’ll never forget making a reporting trip to the Gaza Strip, and having my paychecks from that trip, combined, come out to (a lot) less than what I’d spent to go to Gaza. In other words, I’d PAID news outlets for the privilege of writing for them (from a relatively dangerous place, no less).
It was to greener pastures I longed to return. When Adele and I finally admitted to ourselves that living abroad wasn’t working, we decided to move back to the U.S. We chose Chicago, where Adele’s family is from, not New York, where we’d lived before moving to Israel, and which, like the way the Middle East, had worn us down with its high cost of living and generally chaotic way of life.
When I got to Chicago, I turned to PR not just because there was more opportunity, but because, as my cousin Craig once said over a glass of whiskey in San Francisco while discussing this very topic, information is information. It doesn’t make it any less interesting or any less true if it comes from a company or from a Pulitzer-winning nonprofit journalism lab.
So you could say I finally caved. Finally let myself get sucked down the drain. But here’s another way to look at it: I followed my interest in information, and it led me to PR.