Theola DeBose began to consider leaving journalism during the most prestigious assignment of her career. In 2003, her employer, the Washington Post, moved the young reporter from the Metro desk, where she covered Southern Maryland, to the Iraq bureau in Baghdad. She worked 14-hour days, “stewing in a juice of adrenaline and deadlines,” she says. “I was always getting on the front page, but it was like, A1 isn’t going to give me a hug.”
DeBose left the Post—and journalism—in 2012, eventually taking a job in the Obama administration as director of communications for the National Endowment for the Humanities. (She now runs her own firm, Grayside Media.) Ever since, she has been fascinated by how journalists can reinvent their professional identities—an increasingly urgent question for a field that has seen plunging employment numbers. DeBose says those first months in her new career were difficult: “I didn’t know what I was doing. I just kept feeling like, ‘Where do I go? Who do I turn to?’ ”
That’s why, in 2017, DeBose founded Life After Journalism, a consultancy that shepherds newsroom lifers onto alternate paths. Among other things, her eight-week online course helps reporters translate their skills into recruiter-friendly language. “A lot of journalists would say, ‘I covered the earthquake,’ ” DeBose says. Instead, they might explain how they “identified resources” (found a driver) and “executed on core mission” (wrote the story).
DeBose also advises writers and editors on how to adapt to, for lack of a better term, polite society. “What really sinks journalists making this transition,” she says, are “the interpersonal things.” Topics have included office etiquette—no cursing at your computer—and relationship-building, often a challenge for deadline writers who, “occupationally, are not humble people.”
Though the course is only in its first year, DeBose has already helped, for example, a former Post reporter get a gig with the Defense Department. She expects her clientele will grow as American newsrooms continue to shrink. “It seems super-inefficient to have this level of talent not be repurposed in some way,” she says. “I love journalism. I know how amazing it is. I also know it’s not everything—and that’s okay.”
This article appears in the May 2019 issue of Washingtonian.