It’s been nearly a year since I switched careers from journalism to public relations, but the remnants of my old life still pop up now and then.
I recently attended a dinner celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Texas A&M Department of Statistics. The wine had been poured when the audience broke into the first of many bouts of applause throughout the night to congratulate the former students who had flown in from around the country.
For a couple seconds too long, I didn’t clap.
During three and a half years covering Texas A&M as a local journalist, I never clapped while working. Call me silly in my ethical pretensions, but my view is independent journalists are not supposed to be part of the establishment they cover or appear to promote it in any way. And that goes for benign events, too, like awards and graduation ceremonies.
So it’s been a change going from being a journalist to an advocate for the College of Science.
Surprisingly, an easy one.
Although there are key differences between my old role as a journalist and my new one as a writer in the College of Science, there are striking similarities beyond the obvious of each encompassing writing, interviewing and research. I loved telling human-interest stories as a journalist, and I can still tell many of those same stories now. When possible, I tried in my writing to show rather than tell, and I’m as committed to that now. And at their ideal, public relations and journalism are both about ethically and accurately presenting quality information to the public. I had a sense of purpose that my work as a journalist was in service to the taxpayer. I have that same sense now, though for a different reason. Impactful research goes on at this university, and my job is take a crack explaining it so taxpayers have a better understanding of what they are investing in.
So don’t look to me to probe below the surface of university politics. Or fire off a flurry of open-records requests. That’s not my role anymore. My job now is not independent. I am selling something. But luckily, it’s something I believe in, have believed in for years – the research that goes on in American academia, and Texas A&M especially.
And I’ll remind myself that it’s OK to clap about that.