Former Daily Telegraph journalist Nicole Martin comments on the changing role of PRs as the newspaper industry looks at recession…
The traditional relationship between PRs and journalists is changing, as Nick Davies explains in his excellent book Flat Earth News. He argues that the role of PRs is growing as newspapers cut staff and journalists increasingly find themselves chained to their desks re-writing agency copy.
To illustrate his point, Davies commissioned a study of more than 2,000 UK news stories from four quality dailies (Times, Telegraph, Guardian, Independent) and the Daily Mail. The results were startling: 80% of them were wholly, mainly or partially constructed from second-hand material, provided by news agencies and by the public relations industry.
As a former journalist who worked at the Daily Telegraph for 10 years, I have first-hand experience of the changing climate, and agree with Davies’s conclusions that PRs have more power than they used to. With newsrooms cut to the bone and workloads growing, reporters are relying more and more on PRs because they simply no longer have the time to leave the office, nurture contacts over boozy lunches and find stories themselves. This is bad news for the newspaper industry but great news for PRs – as long as they fully understand what a news story is and how to pitch it effectively.
My top three tips would be – get to the point, don’t be deferential and don’t commit the biggest sin of all of asking a journalist how they are. For some irrational reason, this annoys reporters more than anything. How do you think they are? Busy, stressed and fed up with PRs calling with non-stories.
A business journalist recently said that he was so fed up with “poorly targeted releases” from PRs that as part of two-day experiment he would only accept pitches via Twitter, the micro-blogging site. I doubt that he will give up email forever but his reasons for dispensing with it temporarily are a salutary lesson: “While I have regular dealings with several excellent PRs, far too much poorly targeted information clogs up my inbox and voicemail so it’s time for a change. A key skill of public relations is writing punchy, catchy copy which draws the journalist in, so what better place to do that than on Twitter?”
The most successful PRs will be those who not only can spot stories but know how to write them. Overworked journalists like nothing more than finding a well-written press release in their in-box, cutting and pasting it, and passing off the story as their own. I recently pitched an idea to a national reporter who said they loved the story but asked if I could write it and do the background research because they simply did not have the time to do it themselves. A former national newspaper reporter who now works in PR, summed up the new role of PRs very well: “With workloads growing and increasing number of journalists moving to PR, some PR companies are beginning to resemble news rooms – the only difference is that they are pitching to lots of editors/reporters rather than one news editor.”