Being a reporter in the current newsroom environment isn’t easy. Things move at lightning pace, and you’re expected to do a lot with a little – turning out multiple stories in a short amount of time, sometimes serving as your own photographer and editor. It’s stressful but rewarding, and PR professionals play a key role in balancing out the two. Some PR pros add to the stress. But the good ones help relieve it.
Now that I’m on the “dark side” (Bethany left a nearly 10-year career in broadcast reporting to join Three Box as a media specialist in early 2019), I’ve sat through numerous media panels where current reporters and producers tell you how they want to work with the PR pros who are constantly bombarding their inboxes. The fact is, everyone is different, and as you build relationships with media contacts, you’ll find out how they like to work. Here are a few tips for getting inside the minds of reporters and becoming a source that they’re always eager to work with.
Give me what I need – not what you want to give me.
I can’t begin to count how many times I would come to cover an event as a reporter, and the company’s PR person would give me the CEO to interview, followed by a director, then the event coordinator. I don’t need three interviews of people saying the same thing. When a reporter outlines a story, they are looking for two things: an expert and a face. The expert is usually the CEO or someone best equipped to answer questions. The face is the person that’s affected. PR pros can really help reporters by thinking ahead and having both the face and the expert lined up and ready to be interviewed. Remember that, to the reporter, the focus of the story will always be on what’s happening and who’s affected, not necessarily your client.
Think twice before involving superiors.
Reporters have a lot on their plates, so sometimes mistakes happen. A lower third is misspelled, there’s a factual error in a web story, the date of the event was reported incorrectly, the list goes on. In my time as a reporter, I never saw anyone make these mistakes maliciously. So why would you write an email or call the reporter’s superior to report the mistake before going to them first? That’s a surefire way to get on someone’s bad side. Only if you don’t hear back from the reporter after a reasonable amount of time should you consider reaching out to their superiors.
Manage your client’s expectations when navigating their goals for a story compared to what a reporter can actually accomplish. If you contact a reporter 10 minutes before their deadline to change or add something, do not expect it to make it in the story. A reporter or producer must verify all information before it goes to print or air, so expecting a last-minute change just isn’t reasonable. I once had a PR pro call me minutes before my package was set to air to ask if I could include negative information about one of the people I was reporting on. First off, I don’t have time to verify that information, and secondly, it isn’t relevant to the story. After explaining that to them, the PR person emailed my boss and the news desk (which goes to the entire newsroom) accusing me of being biased. If that PR contact had been more reasonable, they would have one less newsroom enemy.