Letters Home: Jennifer Lerner

Jennifer Lerner is vice president at
Fleishman-Hillard in Kansas City. She
graduated from the Missouri School of
Journalism in 1998 with a degree in
broadcast journalism.
The following letter was submitted June 26, 2012

Dear ONA Mizzou Students,

What a fantastic moment – you’re about to embark into the next chapter in your journalism career. I vividly remember my graduation day from the MU School of Journalism 14 (!) or so years ago. Elizabeth Vargas from ABC News (also a Mizzou alum) gave the commencement address, and I was about to venture off to Nashville to begin my career as a weekend morning news producer. I was hopeful. I was idealistic. I would eventually work my way up to the ranks of Executive Producer and beyond!

Seven years later, I found myself going over to, what my newsie friends called, the ‘the dark side’.

That’s right. In 2005, I, Jennifer (Hankes) Lerner, broadcast news producer, graduate of the best J-School in the country, made a career change and became a public relations professional. (Gasp!)

I know what you’re thinking. “That will NEVER happen to me. I will always work in journalism for, [insert station/website/publication here]”

In a very bittersweet and ironic turn of events, not six months after I left news, I won a Regional Emmy Award for Overall News Excellence in the Midwest region for a newscast I had produced before I left the station. It was a sweet moment which capped off my TV news career, and yet had me second-guessing my decision to move on.

Nevertheless, I kept and still keep in touch with many of my TV newsie friends, who keep me in the loop on the latest trends in ‘multi-media journalism’, or MMJ, or whatever they’re calling it now. They’re faced with a lot : staff has been reduced, they are expected to do more with less time, one-man-banding has re-emerged, Facebook/Twitter/YouTube has changed the way newsrooms reach their audiences, yet viewership/readership is slipping, you name it. And yes, it’s still a fun/non-stop industry to work in. And yes, all in all, I’m still glad I made the switch, though I do miss news sometimes.

If there’s one thing I really wish I had learned more about in J-School – I wish I had learned more about the impact of communications on a business. I never took a Strat Comm or public relations class, and what I didn’t know (or was too na├»ve to realize) back then is that companies often fear engaging with journalists because that one wrong word or statement could set off a firestorm, a lawsuit, a shareholder revolt, you name it. This is why you might not get calls back from PR people. This is why you might get an e-mail statement instead of an interview. This is another reason why your job as a journalist is really really tough.

My one piece of advice: Play nice with communications staff. Be respectful. Please, please, please don’t just assume that they’re hiding (or ‘spinning’) the truth. Just like you, they’re just doing their job.

See, I get it. I’ve been in your shoes. You’re under deadline. You have managers breathing down your neck for your story. You want as much information as possible, and you’re now dealing with a PR flack who won’t return a phone call. All I can say is have patience; a positive relationship might just net a solid story/opportunity down the road.

Wherever your path takes you, you’re going to cross paths with people who didn’t go to J-School and instead majored in PR or marketing. Some of these people might send you really dumb story ideas, and some of them have no idea what it’s like to face a deadline. And after you’ve stopped rolling your eyes, please remember there are also those of us out there who do get it, who came from where you are right now, and who will try their best to help you. The Mizzou Mafia lives on, even outside of newsrooms.

Good luck to all of you!

Jen (Hankes) Lerner
BJ ’98 Broadcast

Jennifer (Foster) Lerner
Vice president at Fleishman-Hillard Kansas City

Check out the rest of the Letters Home series

Editor's note: If you're a Mizzou journalism alum who would like to contribute to the Letters Home series, send us an email at onamizzou@gmail.com with your letter, your name, your sequence and graduation year, your current job and contact information.

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