Recently I took a look at PR role models in pop culture and came up fairly empty. Yes, there were a few exaggerated characters like Samantha Jones from “Sex and the City.” But if they didn’t exactly spark a rush of people applying for PR jobs, who did?
The likely answer: fictional journalists. In the 70s, 80s and 90s, they were everywhere, on both TV and in movies. The TV newsrooms in “Broadcast News,” “Murphy Brown” and “NewsRadio” bustled with activity. Newspaper reporters and editors in “All the President’s Men,” “The Paper” and “The Wire” broke stories that mattered. And glossy magazines were the setting for a wide variety of plots in a fun, interesting and apparently hilarious workplace: The publications in “Suddenly Susan,” “13 Going on 30” and “Just Shoot Me!” made magazine journalism look like an excellent career choice. Even though you might find yourself working alongside David Spade.
For me – and it sounds like for many of you, especially fellow Minnesotans – the top journalistic role model during our formative years was someone who could turn the world on with her smile: TV producer Mary Richards on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show.” I’m sure she resonated even more for us in the Bold North because WJM was based in Minneapolis. While that was a fictional station, the show’s real-life locations made many of us think of Mary, Lou, Ted, Murray and the others any time we drove by the apartment complex featured in the opening credits or threw our hat in the air as we strolled down Nicollet Mall. Don’t lie – you’ve done it.
Early on, I was going to be a print reporter. I was editor of my high school and college newspapers, but it wasn’t until I landed college internships at WCCO Radio and KARE-11 in the Twin Cities that I changed course. Before heading into PR, I worked as a TV reporter in Eau Claire, Wisconsin (check out the photo of that young lad from when George H.W. Bush was president), and, following in Mary Richards’ footsteps, a producer in the Twin Cities. I guess I shouldn’t be too surprised I loved all three: print, broadcast and PR. As an ambivert, I craved the dynamic, in-the-spotlight world of broadcast journalism, but also felt comfortable with embracing the stereotypical “ink-stained-wretch” life of a print journalist. I am both of those things. And so is PR, which deftly combines both of those areas, sometimes over the course of a few minutes.
Who else managed to bridge both of those worlds? Certainly a few real-life mentors and friends, not the least of whom is former Minneapolis Star editor and WCCO-TV reporter and anchor Dave Nimmer. But also a notable fictional one: Lou Grant, who ran the WJM newsroom then became city editor at the Los Angeles Tribune in the drama “Lou Grant” (RIP, Ed Asner). They’re both great examples that a journalist was a journalist, no matter where they worked.
Now many of us work in PR. It’s no surprise that a large number of corporate communicators were once journalists. The skills in print, broadcast and digital journalism all carry over: We’re curious multi-taskers, creative dot-connectors and word nerds. We’re good with a deadline, adaptive and skeptical. We’re a lot of things, and we put those varied interests and skills to work every day telling stories.
So, thanks for the inspiration, Mary, Lou and the multitudes of other pop-culture journalists on the big and small screens. You gave many of us in the PR and news worlds the confidence to get into the business – and to believe we’re gonna make it after all.