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Pop Culture Incorporated: How TV and Movie Journalists Influenced a Generation of PR Pros

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.

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