Re[2]: Career-switching

Subject: Re[2]: Career-switching
From: Rod Franklin <franklir -at- TCPLINK -dot- NREL -dot- GOV>
Date: Fri, 27 Oct 1995 09:07:05 MDT

I'm sure many of you have made similar transitions from news writing
to tech writing, and I'd like to share your insights on making that

I was a reporter for various small market newspapers for ten years. I
loved it and was good at it. Now I'm a science writer at a national
renewable energy laboratory. It's been a major change, but in some
ways not that difficult.

Certainly the money and opportunities, both short- nd long-term, are
better in the technical communication field and the hours tend to be
more reasonable as well. But how do you deal with deadlines that tend
to be long range rather than daily? How do you get a sense of
accomplishment or feeling of making a contribution to your company
when you can work on a project for months on end without seeing the
results, when before you needed only to pick up that day's paper to
see what you had done lately.

Newspaper reporters shouldn't feel "strung out" on the quick fix of
instant publication. It's what initially attracts a person to the
profession, but after a few years one can learn to rise above that
desire in the same way that he or she learns to rise above the need to
see a byline. These are more the superficial trappings of journalism.
They help sustain the low-pay reality of small markets because
publishers will condescend to writers by indulging their egos while
paying only a pittance. Hitting a reporter with a come-on about
front-page play the next day is almost tantamount to taunting a baby
with a piece of candy. It's almost contemptous on the publisher's

How do you cope with a subject matter that is often duller and less
comprehensible than what you used to report on? Has the camaraderie of
the newsroom been adequately replaced by your current office
environment or do you feel isolated because you work in documentation?
And do you miss the "free spirit" types you worked with in your
reporting days?

The camaraderie and free spirits you mention definitely comprise the
elements that I miss most. There is no other profession that gives
quite the same quality of maverick spontenaity and catharsis. My
position at this lab certainly doesn't. It's very anal ... a cubicle
environment ... too antiseptic to be entirely genuine. But what the
heck, it comes with the territory.

Finally, have you settled on this field as your career or are you just
doing it for now because you can, and jobs are available, but you have
your sights set on making another career change down the road?

I am lucky in that I get to write about science and engineering and not
software. I know the onus of technical writing could be much more boring
than it is for me. But I doubt if I'll return to newspapers unless it's
the big time at a guild shop. I basically got tired of what I mentioned
above: the attitude of rich publishers, especially at small papers, who
run slave shops on a dime. You finally reach the age where you simply
need to bank some money and think about your future.

Answers to these questions and any other insights you could provide as
well as tips for avoiding news writing practices/styles that aren't
welcome in tech writing would be most appreciated.

- Dennis Callaghan
SunGard Capital Markets Inc.
Philadelphia, Pa.
dcallaghan -at- sungard -dot- com


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