A publicist and a reporter talk shop: How to work with today’s media

By Mark G. Auerbach

About 15 years ago, as my public relations business began to flourish, I took a hiatus from working part-time as a radio and print reporter to devote more time to building the business. Several years ago, the lure of covering theatre took me back to work as an arts reporter for a newspaper chain, then as a features writer for a specialty magazine, then as a columnist for a business blog, then as a radio commentator, then as a magazine contributor. I’m now a reporter almost halftime, since I’ve got some good people working with me on projects. 

The “news biz” has changed since I took my hiatus. With the rise of the web, the news cycle is now 24/07, and my features and reviews often appear online before they’re in print. The days of the copy editor are over, and I’m usually required to select and caption accompanying photos, proofread my work, and be my own fact checker. The newsroom has changed. Most of the full-time staff reporters covering a specific beat have been replaced by freelancers. With the advent of wifi, I can file a story from anywhere. I haven’t walked in a newsroom very often of late, and I’ve been able to do radio features from my office. 

As a public relations pro trying to leverage client stories and a mentor to future public relations professionals, I’ve had to both adapt to the new news environment, and teach others the new course. And, as a reporter, I know which reporters and pitches get my attention.

So, the public relations guy and the reporter guy in me have this intimate chat. The publicist asks the questions over a latte at a nearby coffee emporium. (Yes, he’s “bribing” the reporter.)

PR Guy: What kind of publicist gets your attention? 

Reporter Guy: The one who approaches me about an event three or four weeks in advance with a clear and concise pitch, devoid of an adjective overdose and too many exclamation points. The publicist who knows that I prefer to be contacted via email rather than Facebook message. The person who thanks me for running a story about their client. The person who respects my time, and who treats me with integrity. I can’t stress enough the importance of integrity, which includes respect, manners, and professionalism. When I wear my publicist hat, I am a professional with integrity. I expect that at minimum when I’m a reporter.

PR Guy:  What kind of publicist pitch gets ignored? 

Reporter Guy: The pitch that arrives an hour before my deadline. The pitch for a story that doesn’t fall in my area of reporting. The pitch with no follow-through; they promise an interview, but the interviewee is a no-show. The publicist, who makes a pitch, leaves town for a week’s vacation, and fails to put some kind of auto-message on their email saying, “I’m away until X Date. If you need assistance, ask for___”. Most of all, the bad-mannered publicist–the one who disses the competition, offers unsolicited “gossip” about another publicist, and the one who invites me to coffee, arrives late, takes a call during our meeting, is glued to his/her phone, and texts someone else while talking with me. As a reporter, I have an extreme sensitivity to bovine-crafted compost. I can smell it a mile away.

PR Guy: What’s the worst part of the media business today? 

Reporter Guy: Media driven by the advertising dollars (get the advertiser coverage first, be kind to the advertiser); media who race to get the story up first, then fact check and make corrections later. Media that dumb down stories to grab the masses, and media that thrive on sensationalism. I’m so glad I don’t work for any media outlets like that, but I have in my past.

PR Guy: What’s the best part of the media business today? 

Reporter Guy: The rise of the Internet and the ability to produce news content as it happens. Stories are now three-dimensional. A good reporter can enhance a story with photos, videos, and links to material. A good story can be repackaged, tweeted, blogged, and can take on a life of its own once it’s published. A smart reporter knows how to maximize a story. A smart publicist knows how to retool and repackage something. An example: I review a play. A publicist likes my review, and reposts it, and then clips two or three sentences in their eblasts, ads, and promotions. There’s something exciting for me to see something I’ve written shared with others.

PR Guy: What are a publicist’s best tools? 

Reporter Guy: A well-written release with the “who, what, when, where, how” up-front, and contact information for the publicist and the public clearly outlined. If links are included, make sure they’re working. If photographs are included, JPEG format seems to work best, high contrast, interesting photos, and a good caption and a photographer’s credit. I always recommend having a thesaurus handy. (You need one or more options for “fabulous,” “special” and “one-of-a-kind.”) And…if you’re pitching a guy like me for a radio piece, a pronunciation guide to people’s names is always appreciated.

PR Guy: What kind of publicist-reporter relationship works best? 

Reporter Guy: One based on respect, honesty, integrity. Reporter Guy and PR Guy who live in the Mark G. Auerbach shell appreciate professionalism, courtesy, and understatement. Once they get to know you, they’ll become more informal, and maybe even friends. But, they know their roles. PR guy is paid to promote and represent his client. Reporter Guy is paid to tell a truthful and reliable story for his publisher and his audience. They’re both doing their jobs with all good intentions. By the way, PR Guy and Reporter Guy living as Mark G. Auerbach post their media releases and articles on a shared blog: Random Notes from a PR Guy.  Some of their fans spend their leisure time counting the typos.

PR Guy: One last question. Does Reporter Guy have any role models? 

Reporter Guy: I’m a NPR baby, and I like the reporting of Scott Simon, Ari Shapiro, Audie Cornish (who was at New England Public Radio when I worked there) and Terry Gross. Several publicists also get the ultimate in respect from me, among them Shawn Farley at the UMass/Amherst Fine Arts Center, Elisa Hale at Goodspeed Musicals in CT; Charlie Siedenburg at Barrington Stage in Pittsfield, MA, and several other theatres, and David Cash at the Mark Twain House and Museum in Hartford, CT. 

Conversation over, the Reporter Guy picked up the check.

_________

Mark G. Auerbach is principal at Mark G. Auerbach Public Relations, a Springfield, MA, based marketing, public relations, development and events consultancy. You can find more information about Mark at Facebook and LinkedIn.

 

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