Figuring out journalists: 3 tips for PR pros

Figuring out journalists: 3 tips for PR pros

Figuring out journalists: 3 tips for PR pros

By Jonathan Tombes | Posted: January 7, 2014
The more you know about your target media outlet, the better chance you have of placing an article. That is a good reason for getting to know journalists individually.

At another level, it helps to be aware of common characteristics and larger trends. What traits or dispositions do journalists share? How are they coping with the industry’s simultaneous contraction in print and expansion into the digital realm?

1. They hate jargon.

I touched upon one of common traits in a post last month, quoting former New York Timestechnology writer David Pogue, who said buzzwords were a “universal pet peeve,” at least among fellow tech journalists. Maybe that applies even more broadly. 

By definition, journalists are word experts. Even as they often grow jaded and distrustful of their sources and authority, journalists remain sensitive—at times hypersensitive—to the use and abuse of language. 

For that reason it is best to approach them accordingly, with direct, plain, and truthful words.

2. They’re being stretched thin.

Every profession has its “enterprising” and “lazy” practitioners. Most fall in between. Yet journalism has acquired a reputation for inefficiency. In a recent Bloomberg opinion piece Megan McArdle attacked that line of thought in a recent Bloomberg opinion piece, “Lazy Journalists Aren’t to Blame for the Death of Print.” 

What’s to blame, she said, was the loss of ad revenue, not the output of journalists, who are as efficient as ever. There are fewer of them, to be sure. Over the past decade, many have had to scramble to maintain print products even as they shifted into digital-first mode. Journalists can be hypersensitive; they also are often overworked.

3. Sometimes, they’re predisposed to a particular story.

What else do we know about journalists? They can be biased. Which reminds me, in a previous life, as a third-tier subject matter expert in Washington D.C., I once agreed to sit for a recorded interview with ABC’s “Nightline.” 

Duly made up and under the glare of camera lights, I began answering questions—and re-answering them. After the third or fourth try, I realized that what this producer was after: a cleaned-up version of something I’d said in passing at the outset. 

Not all journalists “pre-write” their stories and go searching for quotes, but most have inclinations, if not biases, and are already under the influence of a story line.

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What to do?

Your job is to become another influence. The templates that journalists carry around with them are often as much time-saving reference points as ideological crutches. 

Figure out what that prevailing narrative is, then position your news or story pitch within that framework, using simple, direct language. Whenever possible, include a range of evidence—sources, quotes, trend lines, and other data. Let your target journalist connect the dots. 

Jonathan Tombes is a resident tech writer at Wireside Communications. A version of this story originally appeared on the agency’s blog, Fireside.