Kathryn Thier has three pieces of advice for students navigating the public relations industry and the journalism industry:
First: study both if you’re really passionate, because you don’t know where your career will take you.
Second: think about why you’re interested in both, because it’s important to consider what type of activities excites you and what you want to do on a daily base.
Third: you should also know that within each world, because you can do whatever you want.
Kathryn Thier has taught journalism and public relations at University of Oregon’s School of Journalism and Communication for almost 10 years now. Her journey is filled with plot twists, which she never saw coming.
Thier majored in History, at Brown University. Although she originally planned to join AmeriCorps after graduation, she found herself working at the DA’s office as a paralegal with plans to eventually go to law school. She liked history, writing and politics, “but then I ended up taking a very different path.”
Two months of living in Vietnam, working small jobs at a newspaper, and avidly journaling reignited her passion for writing. She grew up in a small school, surrounded by highly respected and accomplished writers -one was a Pulitzer Prize winner. At Brown, she even almost joined the school newspaper, but “chickened out.” However, with some cross-cultural experience, vibrantly filled personal-journals, and a little push from a friend, she had the confidence to apply to Columbia University’s graduate school for journalism. “I loved Columbia, and I thought, ‘that’s it. I’m not becoming a lawyer.’”
Her career in journalism kicked off when she accepted a summer internship at News Day in Long Island. “Truthfully and honestly, I didn’t like it. I wondered if I had made a giant mistake.” She persevered, though, and worked various jobs including: covering high school sports, writing 9/11 obituaries for months after the attack, and eventually running the “Red Dirt Alert” column at the Charlotte Observer, in North Carolina.
Looking back, June of 2008 was a bitter-sweet time for Thier. Most newspapers were downsizing and there were massive amounts of buyout packages offered to journalists. Thier was one of many. It was saddening for Thier to watch the industry take a turn for the worse, but perfect timing because she was about to become a mom.
When it was time for Thier to start looking for work, she was offered a job at a ‘start-up’ creating and distributing online yoga videos. “I was teaching yoga at the time and it was perfect because it was a topic I was passionate about.” She did it all, at the 5-person start-up: writing press releases, copy, and script for website videos. Eventually, she took a job at a small private school outside of Charlotte. “Suddenly, I learned all sorts of stuff: donor relations, media relations, crisis communications. Everyday my job was something different and new.” Then, life happened and she and her husband found themselves moving to Eugene, Oregon.
Thier’s discussed the future of the two industries and believes that, while PR is changing due technology and social media, PR is on a more firm-footing. Meanwhile, journalism is still really finding itself within the disruption of the industry, talk of fake news, and economic instability. Now journalists are slowly becoming more conscious of the effects their stories have on people.
“That’s why I love solutions journalism. Journalists know this endless negativity is detrimental to our society. When you’re constantly negative, people become depressed and don’t want to be engaged in civic life, which is exactly what journalists trying to combat; I like that journalists are exploring different forms of story-telling. At the same time, I’m worried about the future, but nobody had a crystal ball. Hopefully we’ll see a renaissance in journalism.”
The relationship between journalism and PR has drastically changed since she was in journalism. Back then, PR professionals were looked down upon. Those journalists that jumped ship to work in PR were considered to be going to the dark side. But the thing is, journalists had to go to the dark side, Thier explained. Journalists were offered fewer jobs, which led to journalists seeing more value in PR work.
“There are lots of student who aren’t sure where they fit,” said Thier. She strongly believes that even though the path for communications students isn’t always clear and is sometimes intimidating, “the future is very wide open for students that aren’t sure. Instead of being nervous about it, students should embrace that.”