Why journalists can make good IC professionals

What route did you take into internal communication? There’s no typical way in, and it’s not uncommon to work alongside people who have found themselves in IC from multiple disciplines. Having a rich mix of experiences can really enhance a comms team and inject some fresh thinking.

I started my career as a journalist the week before my 19th birthday, and then moved into internal communication three years later. I started working full-time on my local newspaper during my gap year before planning to head to university. However, having persuaded my Editor to pay for me to undertake a four-month residential Diploma in Journalism course, I did my training, cancelled my uni place and got stuck in.

Martin Bell The photo on this page is from the General Election 2001 when Martin Bell stood in my local area, Brentwood, Essex, against Eric Pickles MP. I spent a whirlwind month on the campaign trail with them. This was taken before the results came in (he lost) and I was interviewing Martin. I’d love to be able to remember what I asked him – his expression is priceless!

I am still in contact with many of the people I worked alongside in news teams. In fact, only a fortnight ago I met up with a former colleague of mine for dinner.

We realised it had been 10 years since we’d last seen each other and reminisced about pounding the streets of our news patch on the constant hunt for scoops that we could translate into stories and splashes. We used to have a byline count within our team and it was a fast paced and competitive environment, which we all thrived in. He is now also in internal communication, and we discussed the similarities and differences.

Someone with a similar route is Richard Cooper @richardjcooper1, who is leading internal communication at the Open University. He spent 10 years working in newspapers locally and nationally and is currently studying for an MSc in Internal Communication Management at the University of Central Lancashire.

Alongside comms pro Susie May, @susiegmay, Richard (pictured below) is co-founder of the Milton Keynes internal communication networking group #mkicomms that I spoke at last month on sociable internal communication.

Here he writes for my blog on why journalists can make good internal communication professionals and why they need to adapt. I’m interested to know what you think of this article. It struck a lot of chords with me and I found myself nodding as I was reading through.

Do Tweet him @richardjcooper1 or me @AllthingsIC with your thoughts. You’re also welcome to comment below.

Over to you Richard…

Why journalists can make good IC professionals… and why they need to adapt

Like many people in our profession, I used to be a journalist and have found the experience invaluable preparation for a career in internal communication.

Richard CooperWhile the skills acquired in journalism can hold you in good stead, one has to make a conscious effort to transition from one career to the other.

Journalists tend to be able to build rapport quickly with people from all backgrounds. This is key in internal comms as we have to be able to deal with people at their level, whether in the board room or on the shop floor.

Linked to this is the ability to build a network of trusted contacts, so that we have an ear to what is happening on our patch. Journalists use this to harvest stories – IC professionals use this to ensure the communications needs of their stakeholders are met.

Journalists also tend to be action oriented, throwing themselves into assignments, spotting opportunities and delivering to tight deadlines. They need an analytical mind, making sense of complex information and putting themselves in the shoes of the reader/listener/viewer, before presenting it in a way that is concise, coherent and credible.

And a dogged determination, resilience and persuasive manner that come with having doors slammed in your face, are useful when dealing with challenging stakeholders.

It also goes without saying that writing skills are a must.

A greater responsibility

Despite bringing a useful set of skills to an organisation, the newly converted IC professional has to accept they are no longer a journalist, they are no longer impartial, and they are no longer autonomous.

It has been said that a journalist does not have to worry about the consequences of their reporting, providing it is accurate. Not so in internal comms. All your actions will affect someone somewhere, and all your stakeholders have to be taken into account. Therefore the role is more complex and carries a greater responsibility.

Richard Cooper

Richard on a press trip to Kabul in 2003, a year after the Taliban had left

I know one employer, with many former journalists on their staff, who does not take on people directly from the media because they do not have this experience. So anyone making the transition needs to demonstrate a strong understanding of the role of internal communication, the needs of an organisation and how they fit within it.

Journalism provides a useful foundation for an IC career, which can be developed through training and specialising in specific areas of the discipline. Therefore, it can usefully contribute to the general knowledge and skills of the ‘T-shaped’ IC professional.

Post author: Richard Cooper

Thank you for sharing your thoughts Richard. I’ve always been mindful of the consequences of what I’ve reported, particularly as a journalist, but agree that the impact of the actions affecting people is probably heightened. More often that not, that’s due to the nature of working in internal communication – you are intrinsically linked to your ‘audience’ – largely employees – and tapped into their immediate feedback. Or you should be!

If you’d like to read more of Richard’s thoughts, check out this article he wrote for my blog in October 2012: Comms pros are qualified to celebrate.

Got a story to share? See my guest article guidelines and let me know your suggestion of what you’d like to write about before you get writing. Thank you as ever for stopping by, Rachel.


  1. […] Richard Cooper’s blog posting on why journalists can make good internal change specialists is food for thought.  As a journalist for more than 25 years who’s recently made the move into communications it made me think about the scope – and limitations of journalism. […]

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