Former Crimson White Editor Gives Advice That’s Golden To Alabama Students

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Any public relations or journalism student at the University of Alabama who missed this year’s John Koten Lecture on February 9 missed a chance to gain some career-setting advice.

Ellen East

In her address last Thursday, Ellen East, executive vice president and chief communications officer for Time Warner Cable, posed the question “Is this the Golden Age of Public Relations.”

No surprise– her answer is a resounding “YES”. But,¬† not necessarily because she’s in love with public relations.

“I never really wanted to a be PR person,” said East, who spent a decade at daily newspaper after majoring in journalism here at the University during a tumultuous time.

A Journalist At Heart

East was editor of The Crimson White in 1983 when our beloved former head football coach, Paul “Bear” Bryant died of a heart attack.

She recalled responding to that crisis as a journalist at UA’s student daily, just as she’s responding to crises today managing the image of one of the nation’s leading providers of video, high-speed data and voice services in the United States, Time Warner Cable.

Social media weren’t around in 1983 when Bryant died.

Today, East says, they’re the “predominant form of social discourse” and have placed “local publishing power in every person’s pocket.”

It’s hard to deny East’s Five Reasons for the Golden Age of Public Relations:

  • A Trust Deficit
  • Social Media as the Number-one Activity Online
  • Employees as Ambassador of the Brand
  • Increasing Social Consciousness¬† and expectations companies will do the right thing
  • Movement from Mass Communications to “Me” Communications

But, these five reasons of which any journalist or mass communicator looking to break into our field needs to be aware, were just a starting point for East

Golden Nuggets of Advice

Students attending Thursday’s lecture also got a chance ask about her career path.¬† Her answers provided a road map who any serious mass communication student.

“I don’t hire anyone who hasn’t interned somewhere,” East said, stressing the importance of practical experience over even a graduate degree for someone wanting to break into mass media field.

As for her journalism background–

“It’s all about writing skill,” she said. “If you’re not a strong writer,” it’s going to be a struggle for you.

And, in case any student was wondering about that foreign language requirement–

“If you’re bilingual, you’re gold,” East said.

The 15th John Koten Distinguished Lecture was sponsored by the Betsy Plank Center for Leadership in Public Relations, one of the reasons the University of Alabama has consistently been ranked among the top three PR programs in the nation.

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