By Benét J. Wilson, DJTF co-chair, Online Managing Editor-Business Aviation, Aviation Week Group
Last week, I received an assignment for the summer edition of the NABJ Journal: interview long-time member Sheila Brooks, owner of SRB Communications and winner of the first Pat Tobin Media Professional Award. I met Brooks in 2008 at NABJ’s Watergate Conference on Political and Congressional Reporting. We also both served on the selection committee for the inaugural Ray Taliaferro NABJ Entrepreneurial Spirit Award.
As I was interviewing Brooks for the Journal story, I asked her a question about how she has been a leader and role model for journalists wanting to go the entrepreneur route. The conversation was so good, I decided to use it here on the blog.
Look at what’s happening in the media industry, says Brooks, a 33-year veteran of television, building a career as a news director, reporter, anchor, and documentary producer at television stations across the country. “So many journalists are losing their jobs or taking buyouts, whether they are in television or print,” she observes. “We’ve all seen the changes because of the digital revolution.”
Brooks thinks that journalists with solid writing, producing and editing skills need to look at other career opportunities. “That doesn’t end with public affairs or public relations jobs, but expands to entrepreneurship. That’s when we’re in control of our destiny,” she states. “Journalists can no longer rely on long careers in the media.”
No one likes to take that first step toward entrepreneurship, says Brooks. “With my Learning Lab, journalists considering a move to entrepreneurship can meet those who have already done it, so they can see if this is something they want to pursue,” she explains. “We look at things like what opportunities are out there, can I get contracts with organizations like the federal government and major corporations. We teach them how to leverage relationships.”
When I left the newsroom, the first thing I did was leverage relationships, says Brooks. “I knew how management awarded contracts to production companies. I also knew that if I could run a newsroom, I could run my own company,” she states. “My facility looks like a television station and I own it. We can give journalists the same opportunity to learn how to grow a prosperous business.
Small businesses are what drives this economy, says Brooks. “But we have become so complacent about being in our jobs, because we have great jobs. Back in the day, we worked in newsrooms run by managers who were committed to diversity goals and gave us opportunities, but many of those people are gone,” she notes.
Declining ad revenues and the growing digital platform have changed the traditional news mode, says Brooks. “Journalists need to see all the opportunities out there. Not everyone will want to do what I did – take big bank loans to buy equipment,” she warns. “But there are others who can still grow a business and it doesn’t have to be that intense or have a large overhead. Entrepreneurship can be addictive.”