This is for journalists who are wondering where they might take their skills within and beyond journalism in the wake of layoff after layoff, and whether they need to leave behind the ideals and objectives that inspired them to become journalists in order to get work and thrive.

As a former independent journalist-turned-lots-of-other-things (and with a professional life before journalism—I became an independent journalist at the tender age of 30), I’ve sometimes taken for granted the degree of knowledge and enviable skill set I have thanks to my journalism training and practice.

That is, until some ask or task unlocks all that I’d forgotten I knew and could do.

To wit, my partner and I are expanding our journalism-adjacent business. A few weeks ago, we had an exploratory conversation with a great non-profit we featured in a recent project.

One of their objectives is to influence municipal decision-makers around the country to prioritize investments in programs that serve their youth constituency. This spoke to us, and we decided to follow up with a few useful thought starters for how they might approach this.

But as I sat down to work on the note, my mind went blank. All I could think of were big, wide buckets of well-worn content-focused tactics:

  • Publish op-eds with publishers in target cities!
  • Produce videos!
  • Launch a podcast!

In essence, I had nothing.

Then I asked myself a question that kicked off one of the richest work sessions I’ve had in months.

What if the municipality they were trying to win over was Newark, New Jersey?

It’s the city I’m from and reported on for six years via a digital publication I started and ran in the 2010s. That question—what if it was Newark?—unlocked reams of ideas that could be serviced not only by content, which is our company’s focus, but also through meetings, proposals, community organizing, dealmaking, and more.

These were strategies I learned from years of day-in, day-out reporting on similar efforts in Newark, directly from the people in the arena—and from reading scholarship, studying previous real-life efforts, publishing stories, producing follow-ups, and grappling with questions and feedback from our community, all while sweating the living hell out of the details. 🥵

I summarized a few of these thought starters and sent them along. They were strong ideas that transcended our business’s narrowly-hewn “content” lane—but that did not transcend our knowledge.

In the process, we also identified new possibilities for what our company itself might do.

I think journalists are not only prepared but also essential for a new frontier of work and impact. You have the passion and the purpose to seek the truth and serve the public interest. You have the skills and the tools to ask sharp questions and synthesize information, key for making technologies like generative AI a resource versus a rival. You have the ability and the opportunity to connect with people across cultures and perspectives, building trust and understanding. You have the curiosity and the adaptability to constantly learn new skills and ways of working, staying ahead of the curve and the competition.

And crucially, the subject matter knowledge and expertise you have acquired via your beat opens pathways for you to make a difference from a place of deep knowledge and engagement in all manner of domains. What is reporting, after all, if not one of the most immersive forms of learning?

When journalists detach themselves from the formats we’ve traditionally used to produce and share our work and consider the fundamentals of what we do and why, possibilities abound. As a starting place, consider:

  • Your talent, including asking probing questions, chasing information, listening to and learning from communities, communicating in ways that resonate, and facilitating dialogue.
  • Your objectives, like facilitating communities’ empowerment by connecting them to information, knowledge, and insight—and supporting them in holding the powerful to account.
  • Your North Star, which is so often to serve communities’ interests and challenge and transform the status quo.
  • Your subject-area knowledge and the interests they’ve enriched or newly inspired.

This focus not only opens doors for fulfilling work outside journalism but also helps journalists refresh their thinking about how they might work from the inside. And at the industry level, anchoring ourselves in these fundamentals helps us do the necessary work of radically reimagining what journalism looks like in the years and decades to come.

💬 If you’re interested in talking shop about how your journalism skills might add value in a non-journalism context, don’t hesitate to inbox me. As you’ll see on my profile, I’ve done a lot of stuff, and for me, it all connects. Let’s chat.