The Post and Courier took home a well-deserved Pulitzer Prize for public service journalism Monday for “Till Death Do Us Part,” its series on domestic violence in South Carolina. One of the reporters on the team that wrote the series, Natalie Caula Hauff, is no longer working for the paper. She left the P&C in August 2014 to work as the media relations coordinator for Charleston County government.
Previously a TV reporter with ABC News 4, Hauff joined the P&C in September 2012 and quickly established herself as a hard-hitting crime reporter with pieces including a May 2013 feature on how law enforcement agents brought down an Eastside heroin distribution ring. Hauff co-authored “Till Death” with Jennifer Berry Hawes, Doug Pardue, and Glenn Smith, a dream team of some of South Carolina’s best news reporters, and the series has forced state lawmakers to take up domestic violence policy reform as a hot-button issue in the current legislative session.
So why the career change?
“It had nothing to do with any issues with the paper, because they’ve been amazing to me,” Hauff says. “It was just more of a personal decision I made for my future and my family and this stage in my life right now. I wanted to try something new and serve the public in a different way.”
It’s no secret that public-relations jobs tend to pay better than journalism jobs. The latest figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics show a nearly $20,000 gap in mean salary. But Hauff said her move wasn’t strictly a financial decision.
“I know people always think, ‘Oh, it’s because of the money.’ It helped, but it wasn’t the make-or-break at all, for me at least,” Hauff says.
Another 2015 Pulitzer winner, Rob Kuznia of the Daily Breeze in Torrance, Calif., left the journalism world for greener PR pastures since writing his award-winning piece that exposed corruption in a school district. For Kuznia, according to LA Observed, the decision had plenty to do with money. LA Observed writes: “I spoke with him this afternoon and he admitted to a twinge of regret at no longer being a journalist, but he said it was too difficult to make ends meet on his newspaper salary while renting in the LA area.”
Hauff’s move to public relations was hardly unprecedented at the Post and Courier (or in the industry as a whole). Former P&C Multimedia Editor Sarah Bates left the paper to work as a media relations coordinator for the Medical University of South Carolina in 2011. Metro Editor Andy Lyons left in 2013 to work as director of corporate communications at Roper St. Francis Healthcare. Education reporter Diette Courrégé Casey left in 2014 to work as a communications strategist for Roper St. Francis.
Reporter Allyson Bird left the P&C in 2013 to work in fundraising for MUSC, and she went out with a bang: A post on her personal blog, “Why I left news,” resonated with journalists nationwide and set off a flurry of alternately angry and supportive responses online. Citing low pay, burnout, and the constant pressure of being asked to do more with less, she wrote:
There was never such a thing as an eight-hour workday at newspapers, but overtime became the stuff of legend. You knew better than to demand fair compensation. If any agency that a newspaper covered had refused to pay employees for their time, the front-page headlines wouldn’t cease. But when it came to watching out for themselves, the watchdogs kept their heads down.
Hauff, for her part, isn’t making the same kinds of complaints. She recently traveled to New York with the P&C to accept a Polk Award for “Till Death,” and she says she spent some time Monday at the newspaper office celebrating with her old team. “They were fantastic about it, and everyone hugged me and told me how much they missed me, and it was such an amazing moment to share with them,” Hauff says.
Hauff left the P&C in the same month when the bulk of “Till Death” was published. The team worked on the piece for about eight months, including a trip to California to work with the Center for Investigative Reporting, according to Hauff.
“We had finished it,” Hauff says. “We were just waiting for the rest of the online kinks to be finished before it was published. When it was actually published, I had already left.”