Five Ways to be Valuable to a Reporter Right Now

Imagine if every day when you came to work, you were forced to endure the fact that people outside of your profession were going to constantly berate you for doing your job.

Then imagine those same people had no idea how to do your job, but wanted to yell at you because they disagreed with you.

Does this sound familiar? It should.

Welcome to the state of journalism in 2018!

Not only has journalism found itself warding off attacks from all sides this past year, but journalists are overworked because we need them more than ever, which is the height of irony.

(If you have a few minutes: read this op-ed in the New York Times on truthfulness and fake news. It shines a light on what journalists have to deal with on a regular basis.)

On top of the daily attacks and being over-worked, journalists are underpaid.

Ridiculed. Overworked. Underpaid. Not appreciated.

How would you like that to be your job description?

Thankfully, most of the reporters I have had the pleasure of dealing with are in the business because they love it.

They understand the role they play in this country’s growth, and they see their existence as vital to the well-being of this great country.

On a somewhat less important level, however, the health of the public relations industry is directly tied to the health of journalism, even if there has been a significant shift in owned media vs. earned media.

If journalism dies, public relations probably dies along with it, although our death would be slow and painful and full of uncertainty.

So it’s up to us, as PR professionals, to do our part to help journalists thrive, even if we it’s a bit of selfish act on our part to land better coverage for our clients.

Here’s how you can become valuable to a reporter right now and beyond.

Buy Them a Coffee

Coffee is the unofficial drink to have during conversations, and I am a huge proponent of having coffee with as many people as you can.

Every single journalist is a natural born storyteller. Thus, they want to know where to find the best stories.

If you buy them a coffee and spend an hour with them, you will come to understand what they are looking for in a story and then be able to provide them with better ideas when you pitch them a story down the road.

It’s more valuable if you can meet with a reporter who is new to a city or beat.

Rarely will a reporter turn down an invite if their schedule allows, because it’s implied it can lead to better pitches down the road.

Speaking of pitches…

Don’t Send Stupid Pitches

Not only is sending a pitch that doesn’t fall in the reporter’s wheelhouse a fast way to lost their trust, but you risk being outed for bad behavior on Dear PR, which I imagine is the same as being blackballed in Hollywood.

With less reporters shouldering more reporting responsibilities, it is in yours and your client’s best interest to give reporters ideas they can actually use.

This involves reading their stories, researching the publication to find the right reporter to pitch, and not sending the same pitch to five different reporters in the hopes that one will bite.

It’s not that hard, yet, it seems we still need some practice.

Share Their Content

In this day and age of reporting the news, the savvy reporters know they need to be active on social media, and the most successful reporters already use their personal channels to share their content.

But we can help by sharing their content, as well. But don’t do it and expect that to improve the odds they will cover your news; do it because it’s an interesting piece that you truly believe your audience would benefit from reading.

Read Their Coverage

This one falls back to the stupid pitch idea: read what the reporters are writing about to gain a better understanding of their beat.

It’s one thing to use Cision to pull a list of reporters who cover technology, but there are many areas within tech that are covered by different reporters.

Instead of taking a stab in the dark with your email pitch, read the coverage to discover who is interested in your technology pitch specifically, then target them.

Buy a News Subscription

The New York Times doubled their audience last year, with 3.5 million paid subscriptions helping to move “The Gray Lady” to unexpected profit. This, alone, would be a signal that things are on the upswing for journalists, but one year does not a success story make.

I don’t know about you, but it’s frustrating trying to read articles in the Washington Post and Times when I keep running up against my monthly limit, so I bought paid digital subscriptions for each to do my part (and I’m a more informed citizen and professional because of it.)

You can subscribe to both for less than $20/month, which is totally worth it in this 24/7 media barrage.

And, by doing so, you’re helping to keep alive an institution that is vital to our democracy, but that’s a discussion for another time.

Photo by Philip Strong on Unsplash

Don’t Be Afraid To Fight For The Truth

Politically speaking, if you want to see how the extreme other end of the spectrum lives, go spend five minutes on the Reddit subreddit dedicated to president Donald Trump.

Here’s the link: https://www.reddit.com/r/The_Donald/

Go ahead. I’ll just wait here.

Done? Need to bleach your eyes? I can’t blame you. It’s really, really hard to read content you know is false that is being passed off as truth, while, at the same time, you watch an entire community of people radicalize around untruths. These same people log off from their computers and then go interact with those around them in the same communities in which you and I live.

It’s not a stretch to think they try to impart their fake beliefs on other, weak-minded individuals they encounter in their day-to-day lives. And, no matter how ludicrous these beliefs are, all it takes is one person to believe to continue a false narrative.

That’s why fighting for the truth is so important.

I used to think I was a jerk for calling out friends and family members for sharing fake news that could easily be debunked with a simple search on Snopes.com.

No one ever thanked me for showing them the error of their ways. If anything, they secretly despised me for the public shaming and doubled-down on their path toward ignorance.

But in my mind, I was doing what I thought was right.

Put it this way: If your child’s math teacher constantly taught your son or daughter that 2+2 = 5, to the point where they believed it, I think you would take issue with the legitimacy of the teacher.

So why are we not showing the same outrage when ideas and stories that are clearly false are spread rampantly?

Just like being taught the wrong answer to math problems, there are real consequences when an internet subculture tries to brainwash others into believing in the lies.

If anything, we need to be skeptical of everything we see and hear, all the while giving a slight edge to those institutions that have earned the right to be trusted.

So, I give you permission to fight for the truth, even if you think nobody listens.

Read it. Share it. Flout it.

One day we might look back and wonder when we lost this privilege.

Do your part.

No, I Will Not Stop Paying Attention

I get asked this question quite often, when it comes to discussing the current state of our country: “Why don’t you just stop paying attention for, like, a week?”

It’s usually posed by people with whom I disagree, as if not paying attention to the fallout from the most divisive election in my lifetime is going to make things better. If they can be comfortable in their decisions, that’s great. I can’t.

Speaking from the point-of-view of someone who has been diagnosed with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, my brain does not allow me to stop paying attention. If anything, I need to pay more attention so I can convince myself there is nothing I need to worry about.

That, my friends, has been a challenge.

So instead of hiding away from it, I’ve embraced the challenge of staying smart on current topics, if only to be well-informed when the need arises.

This need to stay informed is why I recently subscribed to the digital versions of the Washington Post and The New York Times.

Both publications are fair and balanced. And, they are not in the business of theatrics when it comes to reporting news like certain news establishments that lean heavily to one side or another.

Not many people will argue with your take if you cite one of these two institutions, unlike what would happen if you used Huffington Post or Fox News to back up a point.

The way I see, you can continue to stay ignorant, or you can stay informed and try to use your knowledge to change the world.

So to answer the question: No, I will not stop paying attention.

And neither should you.

Nine Quotes From Really Smart People On The Topic of Fake News

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending a panel titled “The Role of the PR Practitioner in the Era of Fake News” that was arranged and hosted by the Detroit chapter of the Public Relations Society of America.

As a PR practitioner and concerned citizen, fake news is always on my mind. It’s a topic that is not going away and will only gain more scrutiny as we go through more election cycles and continue to rely on our Facebook friends to tell us what is happening in our communities.

I consider it my duty to tell friends and family members they are sharing fake news when it warrants, even if it means I sound like a jerk. The ability for the media to remain trusted and relevant is important for the public, and not just because my job sort of depends on it.

A free and fair media is a core tenet our country was founded on and I want to fight for it.

So, when I heard about this panel, it was not a difficult decision to attend, and I’m glad I did.

On the panel was Ron Fournier, editor, Crain’s Detroit Business (and fellow University of Detroit-Mercy alum!); Matt Friedman, co-founder of Tanner Friedman; and Taylar Kobylas, a PR professional who works for Finn Partners in Detroit.

What follows are nine quotes I tweeted during the panel, from the panelists, that accurately sum up the gist of the discussion. For the record, I will be using the term “cognitive miser” as much as possible in everyday discussions.

“People are cognitive misers. We use pre-existing cognitive beliefs to decide what information to accept or reject.”

“In this day, when the truth is pragmatic, it’s important to tell people there is another way to think about it (the truth).”

“Fake news is not new. What’s changed is the media and how we consume news.”

“Fake facts are being pushed on the public. Those who can say it’s fake (the media) have been discredited.”

“If all we talk about is how excited we are to leverage synergies, how can we (PR pros) earn the public’s trust?”

“Nobody should get their news from social media, they should get their news via social media.”

“We have to learn to be intellectual gleaners and have the courage to confront our biases.”

“Cable news has become pro wrestling.”

“Fake news is a social issue. We have to decide, as a people, to be skeptical.”

Fake News Was Harmless. Until It Wasn’t.

Just because something we read on the internet isn’t classified as “news” doesn’t make it any less dangerous than fake stories that try to be passed off as real.

A few years ago, two images were making the rounds on the web. In fact, I bet you saw these images on your Facebook feed.

One image showed a picture of the crowd during the announcement of Pope Benedict’s election. As you can see, there only a few mobile devices in use.

pope1

The image below shows the crowd during Pope Francis’s election, eight years later. Notice the difference?

pope2

Someone put both of these images together to show how, in a few short years, the use of mobile devices to capture events went from practically non-existent to practically necessary.

And, indeed, the pictures do a great job of illustrating this point.

These pictures hit a chord with social media users, who shared them, perhaps ironically, with their social media communities to backhandedly admonish us for relying so much on technology (I guess).

Two separate events. One location. One message. Powerful.

Except there was one problem: The first image was taken at Pope John Paul II’s funeral procession, not the anointment of Pope Benedict. As the Washington Post puts it, the moods for these events could not have been more different, so it’s understandable that, perhaps, less people were inclined to use their devices, even if they brought them with them.

[Editor’s Note: In 2005, Facebook had yet to open to the public, Twitter wasn’t even an idea in Jack Dorsey’s head, and both Instagram founders were still matriculating at Stanford. So, to share these photos as proof that technology has boomed since ’05 sort of misses the point because even if we had devices back then capable of taking images as we do now, there was nowhere to post them. But that might be another blog post.]

Of course, nobody actually took the time to deem both images genuine because, well, what was the point of it? Who has time to fact-check what they post to someone through a medium as innocuous as Facebook? Who cares if the image is misleading if the message is solid.

We shared the image to show how quickly things can change in eight years, with the actual purpose of the event secondary. But in doing so, we set a dangerous precedent that haunts us to this day.

Most would argue that posting something like this, even if it’s false, is harmless becuase it still conveys the message we want to convey. But that’s how most terrible things start: with something harmless.

What started as teens in Macedonia trying to make a buck by writing and sharing fake news has gotten to the point now where a man walked into a restaurant in Washington D.C. a few weeks ago and fired a rifle because of something he read online.

This man believed the pizza place was a haven for a child abuse ring. The main point of the conspiracy theory, dubbed “Pizzagate”, is that high-level politicians are involved in secretive child abuse and trafficking ring.

The source for this theory? A single white supremacy Twitter account citing unnamed NYPD sources.

We have now entered a time in the course of human evolution where a single anonymous tweet causes a man to arm himself and try to get to the bottom of the case on his own, just in case it is true.

And just last week, conspiracy theorists have named other pizza parlors as participants in the cover-up, even though this is the most ridiculous conspiracy theory I’ve ever heard.

***

As we prepare to endure a Trump presidency that will come with its own set of challenges, we now take on the added responsibility of ensuring that the content we share on social media is accurate, to the best of our abilities.

We can no longer afford to post content now and ask questions later.

As we’ve seen with Pizzagate, there are very real (and very dangerous) repercussions attached to what we share with our friends on Facebook and Twitter. While it may not seem like a big deal to post without doing the proper research, there is always someone out there who is ready to take erroneous action.

If you want to know what you can do to help to ensure we don’t fall down a black hole of conspiracy fodder and untruths in a post-truth world, taking five minutes to do the proper research is a good place to start.