By Aaron Cohen, PRSA-NCC
How have new outlets and approaches to covering the news transformed media relations?
To answer this question, the National Capital Chapter of Public Relations Society of America (PRSA-NCC) hosted a professional development session – Media Relations and the New(ish) Guard in the Press Corps – with reporters and editors representing the Center for Public Integrity, Yahoo News, Huffington Post, Vox.com and Weekly Standard.
Speakers agreed that the news landscape has fundamentally shifted, Gordon Witkin of the Center for Public Integrity, stated, ‘What we do, how we do it and where we place it is changing.’
Libby Nelson of Vox.com said, “It’s not always about being first to jump on a story but giving people what they need to know.” One example she gave is that they try to focus on the big dumb question, such as ‘Can you get Ebola on a plane?’
Nelson also pointed out that there is a ‘huge divide between the media capitals of Washington, D.C., and New York City and the rest of the country.’
Moderator Aaron Cohen of Aaron Cohen PR asked the panelists if they thought that traditional media outlets – such as New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Washington Post – were still valuable, and speakers were in agreement that traditional outlets continue to serve a critical role.
Olivier Knox of Yahoo News stated that he gets his news from them first, adding that ‘their influence has been diluted and they may not be as influential or have the same reach’ based on the proliferation of outlets and news sources.
Kate Sheppard of Huffington Post pointed out that traditional outlets have an amplifying effect but their coverage is not always new or late-breaking. Nelson asserted that these outlets are incredibly valuable as their reporting is often based on physical presence and the ability to be on the scene quickly.
One attendee asked if it is difficult for the panelists to pitch stories to decision makers, and Jim Swift of the Weekly Standard said that only about one-half of one percent of all pitches are seriously considered for story ideas and the common question that they hear from editors is whether or not working on the story is a good use of their time.
All panelists encouraged PR professionals to target their pitches based on researching their coverage and interest areas. Knox added that PR pros may want to look for creative approaches, particularly stories that may be mundane from their perspective but fascinating from an outsider’s view. He gave an example of a story he worked on regarding the challenges of delivering meals by plane to soldiers on the ground.