4 career transitions for journalists

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Once upon a time, journalists looking to get out of the “business” would take a PR job for an agency or a company they used to cover. But flacking is so 1990s.

Here are four other career-transition options for journalists who have been RIF’d or just want to apply their skills in areas that offer more opportunities for growth.

Content marketing

With the brand-as-publisher trend in full force, many businesses are hiring journalists to help with content development. I used to call this corporate journalism, before someone smarter than me came up with the term “content marketing.” (In B2B, it’s called thought leadership.) Whatever the term, it’s not PR – content marketing is about creating “authentic” content that is used to establish a brand’s credibility about a topic or industry.

Content marketing is hot; companies spent $44 billion on custom content production and distribution in 2012, a 9% increase from 2011, according to the Custom Content Council. As content marketing budgets continue to grow, it’s not surprising that more journalists are making the jump, including many of my former colleagues. The latest is Dan Lyons, a fellow PC Week alum who went (most recently) from Newsweek to Read Write to Hubspot – a progression that tells you all you need to know about the state of journalism. Others include Chris Koch, former CIO writer and editor extraordinaire, who is now an editorial director with tech vendor SAP, and Lisa DiCarlo, former newshound for PC Week and Forbes, who is now director of content for a marcomm firm called Elevate.

If flexible hours, an uncertain paycheck and never-ending business development appeal to you, you can follow my lead and create your own content marketing consultancy. A 2012 Custom Content Council study found that 54% of brands outsource at least part of their branded content creation to external agencies, spending an average of close to $1 million with third-party firms.

Marketing services

At many media companies, journalists can move to the Dark Side without leaving the building. Publishers are finding significant growth opportunities with custom content – in large part to serve their advertisers’ growing content marketing needs.

These services traditionally involved developing sponsored content such as white papers or webinars for the publishers’ own website, but now they’re expanding into new areas such as native advertising, mobile and social media. Consumer publisher Meredith has built a 700-employee services group called Meredith Xcelerated Marketing. Forbes has created a “brand newsroom” staffed by editors who report to the business side, in support of the company’s BrandVoice native advertising program.

B2B is also a hotbed for marketing services. Tech publisher IDG has a full complement of service offerings, from custom media to mobile development.  

Indie publishing

Tired of the man holding you down? If you’ve established a following with your writing, you can always launch your own digital brand. While unfettered blogging or independent, long-form journalism holds great appeal, you will face many of the same challenges as your former employer – namely, building a profitable business.

Andrew Sullivan, who built a loyal following while blogging for The New Republic, Time and The Daily Beast, split off in January to launch The Daily Dish. Eschewing advertising, Sullivan set up a metered subscription model ($1.99 a month/$19.99 a year). As of March, Sullivan said he had brought in “around $664K in gross revenue” toward his goal of $900,000 for the year. But facing an inevitable slowdown after the initial surge in subscriptions, Sullivan has already tweaked the meter.

Update: Sullivan said in a blog post on Tuesday that "it remains unlikely that we will reach our target of $900,000 by the end of the year" and that "we are brainstorming about new sources of income (stay tuned)."

Long-term sustainability for The Daily Dish, or any independent blog, remains the million-dollar question.  

Investing

A path less traveled for journalists is moving into the investment space. Tech blog TechCrunch seems to have cornered the market on incubating future investors. MG Siegler left TechCrunch in 2011 to help TechCrunch founder Michael Arrington spin off an investment firm called CrunchFund. Earlier this week, Siegler announced he was joining Google Ventures as a general partner, where he plans to “[continue] the work of finding, meeting, and helping entrepreneurs and extending it all to a new level.”

There’s plenty of debate about journalists becoming investors – especially if they continue to cover the industry they’re seeding with money, as Siegler has done and says he will continue to do. “I'm an investor first and a writer second,” Siegler told Business Insider. “The lines are clear.”

Maybe, maybe not. As Arrington before him, Siegler has plenty of critics, including Valleywag’s Sam Biddle, who sees much blurrier lines:

Every facet of Siegler's life is bleeding into the next, all lines blurred, all bases covered. A self-described Apple fan is going to work for Google, to spend Google's money on things that will inevitably compete with Apple, all the while writing about both mega-companies and their myriad competitors for a giant website owned by AOL. Follow that? … So this isn't a shift. It's not a move. There's neither zig nor zag—just a barreling push down the conflict continuum, where one man is able to wield both enormous influence as a "writer" and an investor, an observer and the observed, as a means of getting rich. 

Are you thinking of pursuing any of these paths? Have you already made the switch? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @roboregan.

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