6 Tips for Working with Today’s News Media

By Angel White

Washington Post Media Blogger Erik Wemple and IPRA Membership Committee Member Robert Deigh of RDC Communications. Photo credit: Sabrina McGowan

Washington Post Media Blogger Erik Wemple and IPRA Membership Committee Member Robert Deigh of RDC Communications.
Photo credit: Sabrina McGowan

Washington, D.C. is considered the news capital of the world and a great place from which to observe big changes in the media industry, so it should come as no surprise that our hometown paper follows the changes closely – reporting on big players and rising stars alike. In a May 7 Independent Public Relations Alliance program, Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple discussed ways that PR professionals should be engaging with reporters and focusing on the new reality:

 

  • PR people are a growing part of the press industry. News organizations are becoming similar to corporate America by creating their own PR departments. Often, you have to go through a PR person in order to speak to anyone at the news outlet. The result is the media has become more regulated by the people we are trying to talk to which can result in frustration for reporters.
  • Beats are fragmentary and boundaries are disappearing. Reporters are expected to cover a lot more news these days trying to feed multiple platforms. So, don’t give up if one reporter isn’t interested in your story – share it with another reporter.
  • Deadlines are obsolete. Reporters are working in a 24-hour news cycle, always writing and always on deadline. This reality changes how and when we approach reporters.

Here are Erik’s six tips for creating the strongest relationships with reporters:

  1. Pick up the phone. PR professionals tend to overlook the value of making calls to reporters in order not to interfere with deadlines. Ignore the adage of “don’t call a reporter on deadline” – if you have a reason to communicate with a reporter then do it and be direct.
  1. Write letters. Another effective but underutilized tool is the handwritten letter. Yes, snail mail still exists and reporters pay attention to it.
  1. Use Twitter. PR professionals should be using this tool to message reporters on Twitter – a simple “Have you seen this?” can be an effective way of reaching reporters you know and those you want to know. Reporters also monitor their mentions on Twitter more than email and voicemail.
  1. Pay attention to bloggers. In the past, journalism standards didn’t always apply to news blogs. But, today’s news blogs are held to the same journalism standards as other media. PR professionals should work with bloggers in the same way they work with traditional reporters.
  1. Maintain trust. Don’t ask a reporter to do something considered un-journalistic. It’s expected that they will talk to your competition for a story, so don’t ask them not to. That will only erode their trust in you and make you look defensive.
  1. Engage early. There’s no excuse for a reporter not getting the facts straight, but there are also areas of judgment, interpretation and nuance that go into writing a story. These are areas where you need to engage the reporter early – it will be too late to do so after the story is filed.

The state of the news media today is being driven by the rise of social media and the consolidation of traditional media outlets that affects the way in which we regard reporters. PR professionals who understand these changes will ensure they have the most beneficial relationships with reporters.

 

Angel White is a May 2015 graduate of George Mason University where she received her bachelor of arts degree in communications​. She is a former vice president of the Public Relations Student Society of America at GMU. Connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/angeldwhite.

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PR and the Multimedia Journalist

National Public Radio’s gleaming new headquarters was the appropriate setting for the recent Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) panel discussion, “Meet the Multimedia Journalists.”

Why? NPR gets nearly as many eyeballs on its rich website as it does ears to its signature programs, Morning Edition and All Things Considered.

media_relationsFive top journalists, including an NPR reporter, told a crowd of over 150 PR professionals what it is like to work with them in a media world where filing a story fifteen minutes after it breaks may be too late, and where reporters are expected to Tweet, shoot video and…oh…write crisp copy with a great deal of accuracy.

The one foolproof method to avoid having your calls go to voicemail and your emails to spam folders is to be trustworthy, knowledgeable, responsive and realistic about what is – and what is not – news.

The speakers, Scott Hensley of the NPR Shots Blog, Jayne O’Donnell of USA Today, Noam Levey of the Los Angeles Times, Greg Otto of the Washington Business Journal and James Politi of the Financial Times were frank in their description of their increasing responsibilities in the multimedia journalism universe.

Here are some key takeaways from the discussion:

Timing is everything: Reporters only have eight to fifteen minutes to get a breaking news story published, and will update it frequently throughout the day. If you have a source or information, help the reporter right away. The next day is too late.

Email (not phone) is the way: PR pros can and should be part of the solution for journalists who often perform two jobs at once. Send tailored, succinct individual emails and don’t beat around the bush. Reporters generally like talking with some PR reps on the phone (and it’s lamentable that others don’t) but their schedules frequently prevent it. Hensley noted that he gets 100-200 pitches a day and usually doesn’t answer the phone unless he knows the caller. He checks voicemail only about once a month.

Peg your pitch to current events: If you have a health care story, for instance, draw a direct connection to the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Levey expects to be busy with the uneven rollout of the health exchanges for another six months, but reporters like O’Donnell may have room for other pitches.

Infographics? No thanks: The five panelists were unanimous on this point: they don’t want your art department’s beautiful infographics. Instead, they prefer raw data from which they can build their own charts, graphs and tables. That said, NPR’s Shots Blog might be able to tweet an infographic or post it on his Tumblr page.

National Peach Month is not news: The calendar is littered with commemoratives, and some, like Breast Cancer Awareness Month or Black History Month, have legs. But Politi and the others said stories need to stand on their own.

Be cautious with embargoes: Embargoes level the playing field and allow newsmakers to pitch large numbers of news organizations simultaneously. While our panelists are grudgingly accepting of their utility for articles in medical journals, reporters are wary of them because they inevitably get broken. Reporters like Otto recommend cutting a deal with a reporter on the embargo’s terms before you pitch to protect yourself and your organization.

Don’t Tweet a pitch: Use Twitter to research what reporters are reading and thinking about; you might discover a great conversation starter, and a winning pitch angle. Pitching over Twitter, however, is a no-no. Many reporters (not all) treat Twitter like their own personal whiteboard and don’t want it used to make transactions with PR pros.

What has your experience been working with journalists today versus a year or so ago? Leave a comment below or tweet me at @aaroncohenpr.

Aaron Cohen has over thirty years of communications experience and provides strategic counsel and tactical support to some of MSLGROUP’s largest clients. He is the incoming co-chairman of PRSA-NCC’s Professional Development Committee for which he moderates panel discussions on traditional media relations and social media. You can also find him on Twitter, where he’s @aaroncohenpr.

Colleen Johnson contributed to this post.

This first appeared on the MSL Group’s Beltway and Beyond blog. To see the original post please click here.