Posts Tagged ‘journalism’


5 Ways to Improve Your PR Writing With Explanatory Journalism

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

5 Ways to Improve Your Writing with Explanatory Journalism Ellis Friedman BurrellesLuce Fresh IdeasExplanatory journalism is very popular right now, but it isn’t new; explanatory articles like “The Top 5 Things You Need to Know About ___” really jibe with the digital age, but the Pulitzer Prize Committee started awarding prizes for explanatory journalism back in 1985.

Explanatory journalism is, to use Digiday’s definition, a form of reporting that attempts to present nuanced, ongoing news stories in a more accessible manner. Basically, it’s explaining complicated topics in a straightforward, easy-to-understand way.

So how can that help you in your daily PR writing?

Roy Peter Clark at Poynter took a look at many explanatory pieces and determined the most common and effective strategies for good explanatory journalism, strategies you can apply in your press releases, pitches, and general copy to make your information more understandable to journalists and your audience. Here are some of Clark’s most relevant tips:

Envision the general audience

This is basically a rewording of the PR truism “know your audience.”  Envision your reader: what do they want to know, what context do they already have, and what do they care about, then frame your content around that. It’s a good exercise to do for every pitch or press release you send.

Don’t clutter leads

Yes, in a press release we’re “supposed to” include all the relevant information in the first sentence. But (good) sentences are finite; cramming in every single tidbit into one sentence is going to make it confusing and unreadable. Choose the most relevant information – not all the relevant information.

Also, don’t bury the lead in the clutter of extraneous information. Lead with the most salient bit first – don’t let it get lost in the shuffle.

Slow down the pace of information

Picture your pace of information like a gradual incline, not a vertical spike. Given time and space constraints, it’s easy to give into the desire to dump in all your information and run, but that’s a GIGO approach that won’t pay off.

Slowing down the information pace does not mean slowing down your writing; it means introducing facts and concepts one at a time and triaging what’s really necessary. It shouldn’t make your writing longer; it should make it clearer, more succinct, and easier to read and comprehend.

Develop a chronology

Something that can help with pacing is to envision your press release like a chain of events. Just as the groundwork must be laid for an action and its consequences, establish what the reader must learn in the first sentence in order to understand what comes next. This chronology will help your flow and increase the reader’s comprehension.

Tell it to “Mom” (or “Dad”)

You may think that your topic speaks for itself, but that is often not the case. What can seem straightforward and obvious to you will not seem that way to a lot of other people. So pretend your mom or dad is going to be reading your press release or pitch; would they understand your main points? Would they actually understand what the product is for or what you’re announcing? This is also a good exercise in slowing the pace of your information.

Finally, remember this gem from Clark: “When writers face and master the challenge of meeting the reader’s needs, they practice one of the truest and purest forms of journalism.”

Print Is Dead, Print Isn’t Dead: The “Chinatown” Scenario of a Shifting Media Model

Tuesday, March 25th, 2014

Print Is Dead, Print Isn’t Dead: The “Chinatown” Scenario of a Shifting Media Model  Ellis Friedman BurrellesLuce Fresh IdeasIf you happened to be searching for information on the state of print media, you’d encounter a classic Chinatown (spoiler alert) contradiction: Print is dying, it’s not dying, it’s dying, it’s not dying, it’s dying and it’s not dying!

Every morning, BurrellesLuce creates and distributes a daily briefing culling articles about the industry, and nearly every day there is an article extolling print’s comeback, and the next day, one about its continued decline. Time Inc. is laying off workers, but The Washington Post is expanding. Newspaper The Los Angeles Register will debut in print, but do print magazines have a future? Fashion magazines are posting growth in ad pages, but ad dollars are getting stretched thin by all the new website offshoots.

Newspaper publishers are losing money, CNN laid off 40 senior journalists, and many newspapers are now going without photojournalists and instead relying on citizens with smartphones. And yet, California newspapers will be carrying a new Sunday print magazine, and Net-a-Porter just launched its own print magazine. Sales of hardcover books were up last year, while sales of ebooks were down.

With print’s evolution of both expansion and contraction, perhaps the death proclamations are due not to the actual dying of traditional print media, but due instead to the fact that we call it “traditional” and “print.” In using the “traditional” label, we condemn print to a stuffy, rigid, outdated image when that emerging print publications are being integrated into online publications’ business models.

In talking about “print” and its death, perhaps what we’re referring to is not wholly the paper medium itself, but edited, high-quality journalistic content. It’s not a dead art form, but it is being overshadowed – and dominated – by online media powerhouses that have ushered in a new era of image-heavy, conversational, meme-focused free digital content.

This isn’t to say that modern online journalism is lesser than the content that preceded it, as many exclusively online sites provide insightful reporting alongside fun, sharable content. But the nature of crowd-sourced content creation, varying editorial standards, and prevalence of misinformation make online content as a whole a much more volatile medium.

It’s not just the “traditional” “print” media that’s suffering; publications are trying new strategies like native advertising, hiring more reporters and focusing on hyper-local news, and even those dynamic online outlets are scrambling to get by –  The Huffington Post has yet to post a profit and may even enact a paywall, and now digital magazine Slate will introduce a paid membership plan.

So perhaps what we’re talking about is more than a Chinatown scenario: it’s a shift in writing and reporting styles that’s tough to define, and a desire for free content that makes it tough for any online or paper medium to get by.

What’s your take on this shifting media model?

Smart Tactics for Media Pitching Success

Monday, November 11th, 2013
by Flickr user Keith Allison

by Flickr user Keith Allison

We’re all pretty familiar with the changes the digital age has wrought on media, but successfully pitching stories to journalists and reporters is still seemingly a fraught game of luck. At the PRSA International Conference in Philadelphia last month, I attend the session “New Secrets of Media Pitching Success” presented by Michael Smart. Smart offered concrete tips to reduce pitching-related anxiety and frustration.

He admits that it’s harder than ever to reach media influencers, but on an encouraging note, says it’s easier than ever to land big coverage once you break through. Here are some of Smart’s tips for effective pitching.

Create newsworthy angles: Tie your pitch into the media’s agenda – what current event, holiday, season, or fad does it relate to? [Avoid, however, tying your product into National (insert item here) Day. Smart says the only National ___ Day that ever gets coverage is National Talk Like a Pirate Day (September 19).]

He offers the example of a dull scientific paper about satiation from sensory stimulation. On it’s own, didn’t sound newsworthy, but it was spun into the extensively-covered story, Instagram will ruin your dinner, linking it to a hot social media trend as well as the ever-trending subject of health and weight loss.

Link to a trend: Or even better, alert the journalist to the presence of a new trend. Smart’s real-life example: In a pitch to a journalist, a PR rep for Sweet Leaf Iced Tea linked their raspberry iced tea with the trend of raspberry ketones, which supposedly aid in burning fat and spurring weight loss. The PR pro made sure to include other raspberry products (even those she didn’t rep) and plenty of information about ketones, effectively “writing everything but the byline,” says Smart.

Seek great visuals: Smart’s example was about a student who won a small state competition building nanotubes 20 atoms wide, a microscopic size and unenticing visual, and therefore tough to publicize. But by creating the world’s smallest Cupid just in time for Valentine’s Day and circulating an image, the school was able to publicize the student and garner worldwide coverage.

Sometimes content is the story: Smart tells of Brigham Young University, which had the top math student in the country, but faced the challenge of getting the greater public to care about math. So instead of pitching a tough-to-sell math story, the school developed their own story by creating a new piece of content: a rap about mathletes, which now has over 100,000 views on YouTube.

Grab the reporter’s attention in the first 10 seconds: That’s how long you have, so construct your pitch to draw them in immediately. Smart suggests referencing the journalist’s previous work in the beginning of the pitch, but cautions that so many PR reps now use this tactic that journalists are cynical about receiving strategically-doled praise for their most recent headline. To mitigate this, keep your references to their past work specific and sincere.

Follow up without being annoying: Smart advocates following up when you know you’ve got the right journalist or producer, when you’re sure it’s relevant, know you have a good story, or the journalist/producer already expressed initial interest. He suggests this pattern: Send the initial pitch, email again, and if you don’t hear back within a reasonable amount of time, pick up the phone and call.

Whatever you do, don’t ask if they got your email – producers will think that if they didn’t respond, it wasn’t worth the time. Instead, just pitch them again like they never saw the email. Acknowledge  their time pressure and end on the softest of soft sells.

When to pitch: Smart suggests finding out when story meetings are for key outlets and pitching right before that meeting. While conventional wisdom has all but forbidden pitching on Fridays and the week between Christmas and New Year’s, Smart recounts hearing that people who are brave enough to pitch during these times are seeing a lot of success. Remember, the media need topics even on Fridays and holidays.

Finally, he recommends calling TV stations during the first weeks of each semester, as interns there haven’t been trained on how to be rude yet, and will tell you the names of segment producers.

Smart’s tips seem reasonable, useful, and real-world applicable. He suggests that with time, pitching gets easier and more successful, and that successful pitching has positive consequences that reverberate through work and personal life.

Do you use any of these tactics? How do you successfully pitch to producers or journalists?

PR Tips for Dealing With Digital Journalism from Community Service Public Relations Council

Monday, August 27th, 2012

Flickr Image: atriumIn St. Louis, three web managers/editors from local TV, radio and print media outlets discussed how to create web- and social-friendly content. At this Community Service Public Relations Council (CSPRC) luncheon, the media panelists explained what kind of information they sought for their websites, how they integrated social media, and how nonprofits (and others) could best work with them.

The panelists were:

  • Kelsey Proud, web producer, St. Louis Public Radio, 90.7 KWMU, University of Missouri St. Louis
  • Jill Hampton, web producer, My Neighborhood St. Louis, Fox2now.com, KPLR11.com, STLMoms.com
  • Greg Jonsson, breaking news editor at StLToday.com / the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

After a brief introduction, the panelists talked about how journalism has changed in this digital world, and how public relations professionals could help make their jobs easier.

In the early digital days, there was insistence (in broadcast media) that they must break the news on-air first. That notion is gone. Today, breaking news happens online, followed by a more in-depth vetted story on-air. 

The biggest change of all is that content is now shared across the various platforms. Radio is no longer just audio, TV is no longer just video and, of course, newspapers / magazines are no longer just print.  I like the line one TV station GM used a while back about no longer being a TV station “but rather we are a local news organization that is platform agnostic.”

Some of the panelists’ tips that I found noteworthy for PR pros:

  • Everything needs to be interactive to get the best user experience.
  • Every journalist is now a ‘one-man-band.” For example, radio reporters are learning how to utilize images and/or video to get better exposure.
  • Press releases are still the number one way to share a story with them. Kelsey says, “No matter how much we complain, we ARE grateful for press releases.”
  • Even though they just stated that content is cross-platform shared, a good TV story still needs to be very visual.  Even for radio, online is visual so include image(s).
  • Your press release should point to the organization’s online newsroom for background information and additional details. NOTE:  Keep the online newsroom up-to-date! Jill said her pet peeve is “getting a release, going to the website only to find the last press release was posted over a year ago.”
  • Include links to organization, event, social media profiles, and images.
  • Do NOT include cute graphics, or attach Word documents or hi-res images.  Most won’t open them, and sometimes their email system strips them out so they’ll never see them anyway.  Instead, provide links to your online photo gallery—low res images are just fine for the web. 
  • Keep the information straight-forward. Greg says they have no time for “flowery language.”
  • Finally, yes, it’s okay to alert a journalist to a story via Twitter—just not incessantly.

While none of this advice is revolutionary, I believe it’s important to periodically hear it “from the horse’s mouth.”

PR pros, please share any feedback you’ve received from members of the media. Or, if you are a journalist, please share how your job has changed in the digital era, and what we, as PR pros, can do to make it easier.

The Changing World of Copyright Compliance

Thursday, April 5th, 2012

Copyright

Free speech, copyright and the Internet seem to collide, but that’s because they are all still evolving. Dr. Patricia Aufderheide, director of the Center for Social Media, American University, gave guidance on this very topic during the AWC-DC program on March 19. She used an example from the 1860s, when a German translation of Uncle Tom’s Cabin was not covered under copyright law, but now would be covered. At the time, one-third of the country spoke German.

You need to understand how “Fair Use” can be used correctly, says Dr. Aufderheide. If you are “adding value” to the information and using it in a new way, then you are most likely covered under the Fair Use Doctrine. Using the entire work without adding valuable information, would be considered an infringement on copyright.  Generally, sourcing a portion of the information with a link back to the original document would be considered fair use, explains Dr. Aufderheide.

Many journalists say their use of information is covered under the First Amendment of the Constitution. What they need to understand is that First Amendment is a part of copyright law, says Dr. Aufderheide.

The protests over the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and Protect IP Act (PIPA) lead to more awareness of copyrighted materials on the Internet. Dr. Aufderheide believes the best way to address the issue is to look at business practices. She thinks that blocking domain names, which will work against security, is not a viable answer. She also says businesses need to find a way to let people use copyrighted material legally.

Pinterest and Copyright

Pinterest is fast becoming this year’s social media sweatheart. (Understand Pinterest and Your Audience.) Many PR folks have asked if the social media site is violating copyright. The answer is maybe. In a recent Mashable story, The Copyright Question: How to Protect Yourself on Pinterest, the authors suggest that companies should only pin their own content and only include content they would include on their website. While Pinterest does not own “everything posted on the site […] posting other people’s pictures without permission could be problematic.”

Resources
BurrellesLuce has many free resources in the BurrellesLuce Resource Center to help the PR professional do their job even better and offers a turnkey copyright compliance program to help clients remain on the right side of copyright law.