3 tips for journalists seeking a new career trajectory: ‘Be entrepreneurial’

Knowing when it’s time for a change is an important step in any career. For Maryland journalist Rick Hutzell, that moment came after 33 years at the Capital Gazette.

Today, Hutzell is the Annapolis columnist for The Baltimore Banner. We asked him to share details about his move from editor to columnist, and to offer advice for other journalists considering a career pivot.

Can you describe what it was like to make the transition from editor to columnist?

Hutzell: I left my job as editor of Capital Gazette in 2021. The new owners offered almost a full year’s salary as a buyout — an offer that had the potential to make a difference in the financial health of my family.

I also saw it as an opportunity to see what else I could do. I’d been named the National Press Foundation Ben Bradlee Editor of the Year and led the paper to its Pulitzer Prize. So, I talked to my wife and decided to leave in June.

Not knowing what was on the other side of that door was scary. I took a few weeks off and then started applying for jobs that sounded interesting. I got some interviews, but nothing really clicked.

That fall, Samantha Bennet at Meta’s Bulletin newsletter platform asked if I’d be interested in starting a newsletter. She’d gone to the University of Maryland and knew about me because of the 2018 shooting in the Capital Gazette newsroom and our coverage of it.

It sounded more interesting than working on the book I was trying unsuccessfully to write. “Meanwhile, in Annapolis” started in January 2022 on the Bulletin platform. I started writing three 2,000-word essays weekly on anything I could connect to the city under a two-year contract. 

As part of its ongoing contractions, Meta pulled the plug on Bulletin in November but our agreement gave me rights to what I’d written and the subscriber list.

So, I took my readers to Baltimore Banner Editor-in-Chief Kimi Yoshino asking if she was interested. The nonprofit news startup has been doing some really interesting journalism and was planning an expansion into the suburbs. 

It’s proven to be a good fit. After the first four months, the readership of my newsletter, now “The Read on Annapolis,” has doubled.

How do you determine what will make a good column?

Hutzell: A lot of it comes from knowledge of my beat. I’ve been writing or editing news about Annapolis for three decades.

There are stories I come back to frequently, such as public access to the water or the impact of gun violence. But usually, the decision is based on what I think will resonate with readers. There are also very talented journalists at The Banner, and being surrounded by good work is inspiring. 

My column is a mix of perspective and reporting. I’m not trying to compete with my former newspaper, so a lot of times what I write isn’t about the day’s headlines. Maybe it’s about what’s behind the day’s breaking news. I look for topics or angles no one else is covering and make the case that it’s worth the time readers invest in my work.

The Banner is trying to reinvent local news in Maryland. I like to think that’s what I’m doing, too.

What are your top three tips for journalists who are considering a change of direction in their careers?

HutzellYou have to be willing to evolve, or maybe even reinvent yourself. I used to say that was the only way to stay at the small newspaper where I worked for 30 years. I held a number of different jobs there before becoming the editor in 2015. It’s true for journalism as a profession, too. 

Decide what’s important to you. In the end, I figured out that understanding the community where I live and work was more important than heading off in other directions. Local news needs champions.

Be entrepreneurial. News startups come in all shapes and sizes, but all have one thing in common: the pursuit of a new model for journalism. You might fail, you might succeed. But you’ll get to work out your ideas as you want in real-time.

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