Journalism, and therefore how we PR professionals work with journalists, is changing. Tried and true print publications have to compete with all-digital outlets, a 24-hours news cycle and an audience that is just as likely to get their news from a tweet as from clicking to a website or picking up a print newspaper. One of the more interesting phenomena occurring in media is the change in not just how reporters are reporting, but how they’re deciding what to report on.
When I was in the press office of the MBTA and MassDOT, I was lucky to work with a lot of great reporters who were dedicated to the “transportation beat.” This meant that, for the most part, I worked consistently with the same reporters who were really knowledgeable about the massive and very complex transportation systems in the Commonwealth. Pitching a new initiative or event was usually not much more difficult than pressing one of the speed dials on my phone.
These days, with a variety of clients spanning from real estate to non-profits to issues management, the most difficult part of my day can be deciding on the best reporter to pitch. A lot of outlets have stellar reporters, but while they may have a niche, many reporters don’t have a traditional “beat” to which they’re assigned. Their schedule can be heavily dependent on breaking news or the current interests and priorities of their editors. This makes our knowledge as PR professionals more valuable, the quality and targeting of our pitches more crucial. We not only have to convince a reporter of the news-worthiness of our story, but we sometimes have to provide a high-level overview of the entire topic or project. It also means that we must be up on what reporters are writing about constantly, as we often can no longer simply look to a listing of reporters and their coverage areas.
As the landscape of journalism continues to evolve, it’s fascinating to see reporters take areas and topics they’re passionate about and make them their “beat,” even when they’re not assigned to it. If you’re paying attention, you can see the extra time and effort reporters are putting in to make sure topics they think are important are being covered properly. Learning a reporter’s patterns or reoccurring themes can help you spot what they’re interested in. With the news landscape shifting constantly, this too can change and only reinforces the need for PR pros to always have a sharp eye. If your client’s pitch lines up with a reporter’s passion, it can be a great opportunity to tell a terrific story.