Tuesday, 28 April 2015

Wanted: Hard Working Journalist For Sexy Tech Company

Like all good former journalists, I was interested to read that Snapchat has hired CNN reporter Peter Hamby, as their Head of News. I was interested because, as a former journalist, I like to see where other people go when they become former journalists.

Once I'd waded through the congratulatory messages on Twitter, I came across a tweet promoting this article: Another Social Platform (Snapchat) Hires a Journalist (Good Luck With That), in which Ad Age journalist, Alex Kantrowitz considers previous examples of journalists hired by tech companies. 

Now I do not consider myself to be in the same league as Peter Hamby, or any of the other journalists mentioned in the article, but I did move from journalism (Local radio and then the Press Association, I know, hardly CNN!) to tech (Google).

Why do journalists leave journalism for the bright lights of tech companies? Money? Well, journalists are notoriously badly paid, so this is part of it, but it's also about curiosity. A good journalist is curious, always asking questions, wanting to discover new things, and tech companies offer new things and questions in spades.

Why do tech companies want journalists? Well, I'd like to think that they recognise and value the skills that a journalist can bring to their company. Skills like: enthusiasm, determination, a strong work ethic and a questioning nature. 

Doesn't it just sound like a match made in heaven! Except for those occasions, as Alex highlights in his article, where it doesn't work out. I think there are a few possible reasons for why... 

Tech companies are natural homes for engineers and scientists and even sales people, but are they a good fit for journalists? A lot of journalists are cynical, (no really..?! And sarcastic!) particularly those who have been around the block a few times. It is this cynicism that helps them question when something seems to good to be true. It is this cynicism that allows them to poke their nose into things that other people just accept. But this cynicism doesn't always fit with the sunshine and positivity of Silicon Valley. 

Some Tech companies aren't yet completely convinced of the value of content, despite hiring journalists to create it. They are used to a product that is easily measured and brings a return on investment. I'm not saying content can't be measured or proven to work, but it is harder and requires a longer-term investment. I've seen tech companies 'try' content and then panic when they don't see results, or can't full understand what is and isn't working immediately. 

Many people become journalists because they want to 'make a difference'. I know it sounds cheesy, but I remember interviewing candidates for two different roles on the same day, the first was for a journalist, the second for a sales person. With each potential new journalist recruit, I asked why they had chosen journalism for their career and listened to a string of passionate, fascinating and inspiring reason. When I asked the people interviewing for the sales role the same question, I got confused looks and mumbles about just stumbling into it, or liking the commission. Perhaps, not always, but perhaps they think they can make a difference at the tech company they join, and they're left disappointed. I recently heard that Google now has 55,000 employees, difficult to stand-out and make a difference in that size of an organisation. And perhaps in a small tech company, where management is focused on the product, content ends up as a nice to have. 

I'm not saying it can't work, because there are plenty of real-life examples where it has worked. I don't regret leaving journalism and joining Google for one second. And let's face it, joining a tech company has got to be a better option than the other career choice open to people wanting to leave journalism.. becoming a PR person!