The day after tomorrow, I start work as a communications consultant with Burson-Marsteller in Oslo.
People have asked me if this means I am “giving up on journalism” or “crossing over to the dark side”. I answer that I am going to start a job that seems challenging and interesting, and well-suited to my talents. Try as I might, I haven’t been able to feel a single negative emotion about that.
Because I loved to read and write, I decided to become a journalist. It was the more sensible version of becoming an author. That same love of language could have made me choose to study law or literature. I originally wanted to be a librarian, back when I was four and thought their job was to read all day.
I absolutely loved my job as front page editor with E24. Putting together the combination of headlines and pictures on a constantly updating news page was challenging and exciting, especially because it called for an understanding of current events, journalism and esthetics at the same time. I enjoyed working as part of a team, and I loved that my job was about adding the finishing touches: taking my co-workers’ great reporting and turning the news site into a finished work, then changing it again when something new happened in the world. Editing for argument was another opportunity to add polish: I loved taking someone’s extended notes on something complex, and turning it into a finished article, with a catchy headline, and memorable opening and closing sentences. I was beginning to wonder if I found the process of editing more interesting than fact-collecting and actual reporting. Despite being a complete geek about headlines and lay-out, I wasn’t so geeky about the news. Not that it wasn’t interesting. Typing bold letters across the front page as the news unfolded was a rush. I just didn’t feel that I knew enough about the world to make explaining it to thousands of readers my permanent job. At least, not yet.
So I got a Master’s degree. While at The London School of Economics, I started searching for a job that might put me in some happy medium between the hyperactive content production of online news and the meticulous snail pace of academic writing. I hoped that I might find a way to combine the information curating and analysis of the London School of Economics with the bold communicating of tabloid news sites. At an LSE careers event for economic history students, a consultant in the oil and gas sector told my class that consulting was a lot like my LSE classes: if you could collect and interpret information and then present it in a way that was as interesting as possible, you would be doing a good job. After some research, some luck and a few interviews, I had a job.
I don’t yet have a snappy four-word definition of what communications or PR is, and I am not 100% sure what I will be doing on a day-to-day basis. But that’s one of the things that appeal to me about this. If my luck continues, and if my instincts are correct, I think I can look forward to learning a variety of new skills, with a diverse group of talented people.
After spending some time in the insecure, temporary world that is the job market for young journalists, I am also looking forward to getting paid, consistently, because my contract doesn’t end when someone older than me comes back from maternity leave or travelling. The working conditions for journalists and other writers are a story for a different blog post, but I will say this: it feels good to hear someone say they want to pay me for what my brain can do.
All the reasons I’m a journalist are still true. I still believe that the world needs good journalists, and that I could be one of them. Norwegian journalism books are written in the first person plural (“We write like this…”), which makes it almost too easy to identify as one of “us” from the first day of school. But throughout my time at journalism school, I always said that if my job was writing (about something other than sports), I would be happy. I was there to get through the system so I could get my first internship, so that I could get the experience I needed to put me in a position where someone would pay me to write. I honestly believe that most real-world problems can be solved through good communication. This is a good philosophy for me, because it means I can, theoretically, save the world with words.
Answers to other FAQs: Burson-Marsteller was established in 1953 by Harold Burson (who, at 91, is still writing speeches, articles and blog posts) and Bill Marsteller. B-M is one of the biggest public relations companies in the world, with 67 offices and 71 affiliate offices, operating in 98 countries across six continents. That last fact is from 2011, but feel free to count the offices yourself. The Oslo office has been around for about 30 years, and there are roughly 35 people working there. I think. I’ll count them when I start.
Image credit: backofthenapkin (CreativeCommons),
September 3, 2012 at 9:07 am
Interesting. I have a similar attraction to (or affliction with :p) language as you, in the general sense of symbolic expression of knowledge, but I usually prefer its expression in more rigid forms, like mathematics and computer languages. Although I enjoy the process of writing in natural language, I’m not really motivated as much by the result as by the process. It’s more a feeling of “write and forget”, a continuous stream of input events that’s processed and translated and leave subtle imprints on my mind, but it’s not information that I look back on or organize later. I like how the words sound and how they fit together like music, more than the actual message. On the other hand, if I write in a formally defined language, it’s more like architecture, and I can sustain and improve my building over time. I find it difficult to deal with the uncertainty due to ambiguity in how natural language will affect the reader, so I prefer to write mostly for myself in that form. Language covers a spectrum that reaches from artful poetry to precise technical instruction and it’s cool to be able to swim at the deep ends, and if you can see that mathematics is not that different from poetry that’s quite a beautiful realization, that it’s just constellations of symbols that differ in their room for interpretation 🙂
September 5, 2012 at 10:58 am
Good luck, you seem to be well on your way…
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