Wednesday, June 20, 2007

what to listen to from reporters

Today, I moderated a panel of reporters for Washington Women in Public Relations' annual media roundtable luncheon. A sign of the times: Not one panelist represented a traditional newspaper, though the Washington Post's website and daily commuter tabloid, Express, both sent reporters to the panel. (Fox News and Public Radio International rounded out the panel.) Reflecting the pressures of the media business and the new media options -- RSS, blogs, podcasts -- that all news outlets must juggle, we heard some telling don'ts from the panel:
*Rewrite your email subject headings and content to fit my Blackberry.A meandering headline, "READ THIS" or "news release" with no other information will get deleted. "Joe Biden speaks on immigration 2pm today" will get opened. In the email body, don't start with "for immediate release" and your contact information, a leftover from the pre-online days. Get your point, and your lead, into the first two lines--and remember they're shorter on a Blackberry.

*Don't call me repeatedly--and call back when I ask you to. Calling to check whether material's been received, calling numerous times when you haven't heard back, and failing to return a reporter's call, especially in time to meet the deadline are don'ts. (They reported callbacks that came two days after a deadline.) Ditto the repeated emails. Reporters pointed out that the more time they have to spend sorting through emails and voicemail, the less time they have to consider your story. The winner in the email contest? Heather Dahl, Fox news senior producer for story planning, who fields 1,200 emails a day.

*Skip the press conferences and webcasts. Unless your topic is a major breaking news event, don't bother scheduling a press conference or inviting reporters to watch a webcast of same -- their time for attending has disappeared, for the most part. And if you are breaking news, locate your news conference centrally, make sure you have adequate feed options for broadcast outlets (and specify those in your announcement).
The good news: While you may not get a call back immediately--or even within a year--you can win points by emailing when you have nothing to pitch, but to ask "What do you need help finding?" and by demonstrating your credibility with a targeted pitch that shows you've read, watched or listened to their coverage. What we noticed: Reporters report having much less time, thanks to all those emails and voicemails, and have developed severe methods needed to manage their time. The loser is the face-to-face meeting, a rarity for those seeking to cultivate reporters.

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