Jeremy Steele isn’t a reporter. He’s not an editor or a producer, and he hasn’t worked at a news outlet since 2009. But he has always been tangled up in journalism, even after spending three years in public relations.
In July, Steele started work as the executive director of the Michigan Interscholastic Press Association. Even during his time in PR, this self-labeled journalism junkie found ways to keep up with his passion: He maintained his membership with SPJ, joined its Diversity Committee and taught journalism courses at Michigan State University, his alma mater.
“For a while I had been thinking about what else I wanted to do,” Steele said of his final months with the Lansing State Journal, where he was a business reporter for three years. In early 2009, the paper’s publisher announced a second round of furlough weeks, and Steele received a call from a local PR executive. Having worked with his local SPJ chapter, Steele realized he liked using his communication skills in ways beyond reporting.
“In a lot of ways then, when I got a phone call asking if I would consider going to PR, it was kind of fate,” Steele said.
The transition wasn’t a departure from his passion; it was an expansion of it.
“It helped me in PR to maintain relationships with local journalists,” Steele said, “But the other part is that SPJ does a really good job of providing practical, hands-on, real-world training opportunities for its members.”
By maintaining his journalism connections and developing his communication and organization skills, Steele emerged as a deserving candidate when MIPA started searching for a new executive director. Cheryl Pell decided to retire from the position after 25 years, and she had watched Steele’s career unfold since his high school days with MIPA.
Pell hoped her replacement would maintain and expand upon the work she had done, leading her to carefully approach potential candidates, including Steele.
The selection committee at the Michigan State School of Journalism liked Steele’s enthusiasm for the craft, his experience in the field and his organizational skills. Though he had not taught high school journalism — the association works with middle and high school students — the committee felt his various strengths overcame that resume gap, Pell said.
“He’s going to be a great asset, not just to MIPA but also to the school of journalism,” Pell said.
He may not have been in the field for three years, but Steele’s first six years of professional experience were as a reporter. By working with young journalists through MIPA, Steele said he hopes he can emphasize the versatility of journalism skills so the students understand the number of opportunities in front of them.
“The industry has frowned on cycling in and out of the profession, that you can’t leave,” Steele said. “It’s the wrong mindset to have. You need people who have different experiences to have successful journalism.”
He has considered returning to his reporter career, but Steele remains focused on his newest challenge: taking a 91-year-old organization through a leadership change, teaching multiple MSU journalism classes and planning year-round MIPA programming.
More than anything, he’ll continue to share his love for journalism with others with the goal of improving and protecting the industry.
“We absolutely need smart and passionate people to stay in journalism,” Steele said. “But at the same time, if things don’t work out for you for whatever reason, there are tons of opportunities out there. … Journalists, they’re good researchers, they know how to tell stories, they know how to explain complex situations. Those are skills that industries out there need.”
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