This post is dedicated to my lovely buddy, Mimi.
She just graduated last week and celebrated with foie gras at Bazaar. Unfortunately, because I was already in the East Coast, I was not able to see her strut the walk in her graduation cap and gown, nor join her and her family for duck liver served in shoes (Mimi’s words). But Mimi, I’m so proud of you and excited for your future!
That said, I still remember when we first met. We met online first because she was my blog-stalker (okay, and vice versa) and we bonded over lengthy emails chatting about red hair, not weighing peanut butter and her idol at the time, Jillian Michaels. And then I remember her telling me that she’s waiting to hear about her application to the University of Southern California– which meant we just might be schoolmates! Both studying print journalism, no less!
In a way I feel like God put us together. We come from two very different worlds; she drawls like a Southerner and I ttok lyke diss because of my Singaporean accent. But we went through some similar struggles and shared the same curiosity and passion for writing and food. We took more than an hour’s public transportation just for burgers and Korean pizza. We ruthlessly edited each other’s work and cooked some freaking fantastic stuff together. I made fun of her chopstick skills and she made fun of my inability to eat offal.
I’ve been dreading the day she graduates because I was afraid she would fly back to her homeland of Texas and just disappear. Fortunately…though it may be too early to say…Mimi fell in love with public relations (PR). She’s been interning at the PR department for a major entertainment industry in Los Angeles, and there’s a high chance that she might score a well-paying full-time job there. Which means I won’t have to say goodbye! Yay!
I have to admit, I was non-plussed when she told me she’s doing PR. “What?” I exclaimed with an accusing glare when she told me her new internship. “Traitor,” I cried a month later when she told me she was actually enjoying. “Nooooo! Et tu, Mimi?” I moaned several months later when she said she would rather do PR than journalism.
You see, PR and journalists share a love/hate relationship. To state it grossly, Journalists sniff down on PR agents as irritating, incompetent sycophants with bad writing and PR agents scowl at journalists as arrogant, rude a-holes. These days, however, it seems like PR people are having the upper hand with better job opportunities, greater power and of course, higher pay.
So yeah, I was kinda sore.
We finally had the conversation, however. It was over gchat, and I got to ask Mimi exactly why she chose PR as her career (for now). Below is a edited copy of our gchat discussion (feel free to skip, of course):
Mimi: It’s not “the other side.” I feel it’s very symbiotic, actually. I actually have a few reasons.
First, I found myself really loving PR because of the variety. I get to write, but I also get to network, meet cool people, and do many different things. I’ve always been concerned about getting burned out as a journalist.
Furthermore, I like to write fiction as well, but I can’t do that while being a journalist because it would be too much and I’d go crazy.
More pragmatically, there are more positions I’m interested in avaliable right now in publicity than in journalism. If I wanted to make a living as a journalist, virtually all positions now are for tiny papers, covering hard news, courts, and government. I hate all three. My love, feature writing, is not really hiring right now.
Finally, pay. There, I said it. While a junior publicist and a new journalist start out at about the same payscale, a senior PR person makes a helluva lot more than an experienced journalist. I love both fields, one’s hiring more, and one eventually earns more money. It wasn’t a difficult decision.
Me: Yeah, that’s true. The journalism field is rather depressing right now. Perhaps I’ll switch over too. Just kidding. (NEVER!)
Mimi: As far as classes, really, I learned much more about journalism on the job as an intern than I did from actual classes. However, I do not think the skill set is very different. As a journalist, I was taught to write precisely and concisely. That’s the same for press releases. I learned how to research — that is incredibly helpful as a publicist.
At the start of my PR job I had to learn the ins and outs, but that was not very hard for me. I slightly adjusted my typical journalism voice and it fit right in with pitches and press releases. I also feel that because I’ve been a journalist, I understand better how their minds work. I get that they have deadlines and all that jazz, so it’s easy for me to communicate with them.Publicity also requires people skills, which I’ve always had naturally. Experience interviewing people comes in handy, because it’s good to know how to ask questions in ways that don’t outright offend.
Me: Yes, but journalists…w
Mimi: I don’t think the exact same journalist integrity applies. The aim isn’t to be objective (total objectivity is impossible in journalism too). I don’t lie. I don’t make up things about a show, or promise scenes that don’t appear. None of the publicists I know do either. However, it IS my job to show off the show’s most interesting aspects. I’m “selling” it in the sense of generating interest.
Me: That’s interesting…So in a way, journalists and PR people aren’t that different…bec
Mimi: Yes. Journalists and publicists are very similar. I might get shot for saying it, but I’ve been on both sides. Both are equally easy to butt heads with. Both tend to think their objective trumps the other sides’. But that’s human nature. It’s more of a symbiotic relationship. As a journalist, sometimes I was stuck with a story that was freakin’ boring. I had to find its most interesting aspects and make them front and center.
Me: Tell me about junkets. Apparently we call reporters who chase after junkets “junket whores.” I’ve heard about elaborate junkets, where reporters are treated to fancy hotel rooms, meal + spa allowances, the works.
Mimi: Some companies do do nice things for journalists — for The Hobbit, the studio paid for a few journalists to go to New Zealand and tour WETA and the film sets. It was a first look and a way to show off the company that does the special effects. But I don’t see that as expensive wine and hookers. It’s just a way to get coverage when there’s no way a journalist would personally pay for a trip to see a movie set that’s all the way in New Zealand.
Me: Damn. That sounds awesome. What do you think is the ideal relationship between journalist and PR?
Mimi: Respect for mutual deadlines.
Mimi: Really, just a decent rapport. There’s no way a publicist can “force” a journalist to write only good stuff. At least, not in my neck of the entertainment woods. We want lots of press, but we see the bigger picture. If one journalist blows us off, who cares? There are plenty more.
Me: How does a journalist drive a PR person crazy? And vice versa?
Mimi: Journalists are annoying when they have to have their hand held through everything. It’s not that hard to get into a press site and select photos. Journalists who are rude are always a turn-off. I’ve never encountered a journalist fighting for interview stuff from a publicist’s perspective, but I know it can be an area of contention. Or when a journalist is asking really stupid questions. As a journalist, I totally get asking difficult or “hot” questions. That’s part of the gig. But I do not agree with “baiting” an interviewee. Bad manners in general are always irritating — there’s a difference between being blunt and being rude.
Publicists are annoying when they do not write concise pitches and press releases. As a journalist, I need to know all the deets, right up front. It’s ridiculous having to get a ton of clarification from a publicist, in my opinion. I’ve butted heads with a couple of publicists regarding interviews, but it was nothing dramatic, just a bit of “give us half an hour or we’re not interested.”
Okay, all that professional talk was making us hungry so we started talking about food soon after. Specifically, Moles La Tia.
I’ve been wanting to visit Moles La Tia for the longest time, and I finally got to try the food there with Mimi one day. Moles La Tia is a East Los Angeles Mexican restaurant specializing in mole. I’ve had mole before a few times, but it was Moles La Tia’s exotic menu that intrigued me.
Mole, of course, is that inexplicably flavorful sauce blended from a complex grind of spices, nuts and fruits. Moles La Tia takes its mole very, very seriously, but it also likes to have fun with splashes of creativity here and there.They offer traditional moles like the dark, inky Oaxacan and Pueblan moles, but they also concoct less familiar blends like coffee-seeped mole, or even a white-themed mole of white chocolate, almonds, white wine and pine nuts. Amazing, huh?
La Tia is a cute place. You walk in and are greeted by a statue of a Mexican mama, and you see the kitchen first before you are escorted to your seat.
The whole decor is kind of bright, sorta playful. There are displays of traditional pottery and posters of traditional festivities and celebrations. I think those posters show scenes from El Dia de Los Muertos (Day of the Dead). Correct me if I’m wrong.
The owner was really friendly, taking his time to explain the menu for us. We started out with tortilla chips served with some zippy salsa.
And then we were served what I think is a cream of vegetable and potato-leek soup.
I thought the color was gorgeous, and at first I was expecting it to taste pumpkiny or sweet potato-y, but it was not at all sweet, just simple and very mellow. The portion was just right, because it turned out to be quite satisfying.
The owner must have liked us because he also served us a complimentary drink.
This is agua fresca de pepino, or a cold cucumber and lime drink.
It was entirely refreshing and hydrating. This is the drink you want when you’re sweating half your water content out on a humid day. The drink had just a hint of natural sweetness from the cucumbers, with an invigorating spritz of lime.
We asked the owner or manager to help us choose something from the menu, and he recommended getting the Cuatro y Cuatro, which is a huge platter of four kinds of proteins with four kinds of mole for the ultimate La Tia experience.
We got to choose the protein and the moles. We ended up choosing chicken, pork, shrimp and salmon (extra charge for seafood).
The meat and seafood came over a mound of broth-infused rice. The rice was SO good–seeped with some kind of meaty broth and glistening with some kind of savory fat.
The platter also came with a basket of warm tortillas. Love that they served it wrapped in a gaudy cloth.
As for the moles, we got the pistachio (al Pistachio), the hibiscus (Mole de Rosa), the Oaxacan and the Huitlacoche, which is this paste made of corn fungus. I know it sounds disgusting, but trust me, huitlacoche will blow you over with its distinct and delicious flavors. I’ll explain more about this crazy sauce later.
Dining at Moles La Tia is like an edible exhibition, especially if you’re not very familiar with such Mexican cuisine. Every taste is a wonder; you keep trying to guess what is in the sauce that just looks like a color but tastes like an explosion of flavors.
The hibiscus mole was slightly tangy like grapefruit; it had the kind of tang that does a little zing at the back of your throat.
The pistachio mole was one of the my favorite. Light and vibrant, it was actually more like salsa than a creamy paste. There was just a bit of grittiness to prove that it really was ground from pistachios.
The Mole Negro, or black Oaxacan mole, was Mimi’s favorite. It’s the only mole that had chocolate in it.
My favorite was the huitlacoche.
Huitlacoche is like Mexican truffle. It’s pungent, with a deep and rich, smoky, inky flavor. I don’t know who was the first person to think the natural fungus sticking to corn would be fun to eat, but I’m glad he or she made that first taste! I’ve had them in quesadillas too, and it’s gorgeous. Something that makes you want to lick your fingers over and over again.
If you’re in the Los Angeles area and have never tried mole before, go to Moles La Tia and get this platter. The proteins aren’t all the impressive (the chicken was sorta tough), but it’s the moles that are the shining feature in this eatery.
Thanks Mimi for letting me understand more about the differences/similarities between PR and journalism. Happy graduation and best of luck in your career! Once you get your first paycheck, you’re buying dinner.
Question of the Day: Would you try corn fungus?