Sunday, June 7, 2009

Media Coverage during the Apocalypse – How it's Changed

Over the last 18 months I have become a student of media – a witness to the apocalypse of traditional media – print, broadcast, radio – and a student of the new. When it comes to pitching today's media - we are all just babies - figuring it out as we go along. Maybe with more crying on our end.

In my areas of expertise – healthcare, education and science – I’ve seen entire departments in the world’s most prestigious organizations – the Washington Post, the New York Times, Business Week, Forbes, Fortune, AP, Reuters, CNBC, the networks - all have all shrunk their ranks dramatically.

If you think that the online versions of name brand media have remained well staffed while the others have shrunk – you are wrong. Online is where much of the new staffing went – the reporters, producers, editors, etc. – were young, dynamic and expendable. Many of those departments are decimated - it's all gone to freelancers who they try to portray as on staff. The bad part for PR people - finding them is really hard and 99% of the stuff you send doesn't get passed on.

Here’s some of the things I’ve learned about the new media reality:

Regional newspapers, though hard hit, have kept beat reporters to maintain reporting on important local issues – the Chicago Tribune is much less likely to let a healthcare reporter go than is USA Today. These are a great source of potential hits – if you can find a local angle. And these days anything that appears in print also shows up online.

Blogs are the best resource for those who want quick and widespread coverage. Blog reporters have winnowed down to two types – the seasoned journalist and the newbie who is trying to make a mark for herself. Both have to fill a lot of space. And be provocative - the goal is to stimulate debate.

Story pitches have gotten really simple – If you thought story pitches were getting simplistic before – now they’re a reality TV show title. Editors and producers want quick, hard hitting, why now and why should I care. In the length of a tweet. The days of page long story packages with explanations of why this trend is important or why this product is the newest and greated should be covered are dead and gone. No one cares. Go to HARO and PR Newswire to see what people are covering. Very instructive. Also follow reporters on Twitter.

Scrap your long media releases. If it can't be said in under 600 words you shouldn't be saying it. And the long quotes make the client happy but the reporter could care less. Your headline and first paragraph are key word sources - but don't sacrifice content. Better to include a second quote or name with the story pitch of someone who can validate it and has no apparent vested interest in doing so. If you don't know what I mean, you're in the wrong business.

The economy is the story and will be for awhile to come. Something that saves money, creates jobs, shows teamwork, helps others in need are all good stories. If you can make them come out of a human interest story or adversity – more the better.

Entrepreneurship is back. If someone is starting a business in this new economy turn it into a story. Figure out how it links to today’s market, come up with a human interest angle and you’ve got something salable. Saw recently a query from a Nightly Business Report producer on HARO looking for a small business in New York City that is struggling in this economy. The producer had to post that? People aren’t doing their jobs if she didn’t have a stack of possibilities.

You have to pick up the phone. The days of email pitching are over. Oh you may get lucky – I have in the last few weeks – but you have to hit someone you know is hungry and young with a good story. But otherwise you must be persistent. And have patience. And not a pest. And don’t put kids who don’t know what they are doing on the phone to pitch as most PR shops do. They will piss off anyone over 25 if they don't know the subject cold.

Social media cannot replace traditional - There are alot of pricey consultants running around selling social media policy work, integration, setting up pages, strategy, etc. Well the word media is overrated. Unless you are Ashton Kutcher with his one million plus followers on Twitter your reach in social is pretty limited. You need to be in that space and to post things there. But traditional media still brings in the mass numbers.

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