By Lisa Matthews
I had the pleasure of moderating the Media Relations in a Digital Age panel at Capitol Communicator’s PR Summit DC on June 10. Editors from USA Today, National Public Radio, The Washington Post and The Associated Press shared their perspectives on the growing challenges of reporting the news. Our discussion revolved around many aspects of news gathering and coverage from the very beginning of their news day to how social media impacts decision making.
USA Today editor Donna Leinwand Leger and NPR editor William Dobson both acknowledged that keeping up with social media is important. Both outlets have social media desks that track what’s trending on Facebook and Twitter. Leinwand Leger called Twitter her first witness for news throughout the day. The AP’s Carole Feldman agreed with Washington Post video planning editor Rhonda Colvin that visual components are critical for storytelling. Feldman pointed out that stories without a photo look terrible on mobile.
The conversation got interesting when I asked what each of the editors thought about press releases. Imagine my surprise when one by one they all agreed that the press release is “useless”, “on life support” and “dead”. That’s right, DEAD. Are you kidding me? That’s when a bell must have rung for Leinwand Leger who offered a direct point of clarification. Press releases that aren’t tailored to the reporter or editor, offer no visuals, are poorly written and have basically no news – just aren’t worth the time of day. I was glad to hear this, as I can attest from my former time on the news desk that releases like those often found their way to my circular file.
Before you give up all hope on that next press release you’re working so hard on – keep in mind that this was a panel of editors. Editors who aren’t writing stories. I’m not saying that they didn’t make good points. I am saying that they may not realize that some of the great lines they are editing in the stories have been pulled directly from a press release or two. (wink, wink)
Some additional takeaways worth noting here include:
- The importance of building a relationship with reporters and editors.
- Tailoring release content to a reporter’s beat.
- Avoiding spam, especially with the AP.
- Understanding the elements reporters need to tell a story across all platforms.
Our discussion concluded with overall agreement that public relations professionals can work hand in hand with reporters by doing our homework. That means more than just sending a press release or pitch. It means digging down and finding your reporter roots. It means learning how to tell the story the way you would want to receive it BEFORE you pitch it. It means asking the smart questions of your organization or client to get to the news potential of what they are offering. And, finally, it means being bold enough to drive your organization or client to the better story that’s really worth telling.
(Left to right in photo: Donna Leinwand Leger, William Dobson, Carole Feldman and Rhonda Colvin.)
Lisa Matthews is vice president at D.C.-based Hager Sharp.