Has the Internet Changed What Reporters Are Looking for in a Story?

Man Bites Dog

Man Bites Dog

While the number of print newspapers and magazines is shrinking, the trend is more than offset by the proliferation of online media outlets. Think Huffington Post, online editions of print publications, and blogs.

At the end of last December even Newsweek shut down its print edition and morphed into the online Daily Beast.

Have the Rules Changed?

Social media has enabled new conversations between reporters and their sources. So have the rules changed about how to pitch a reporter and what they’re looking for in a story? No and no.

Every media interview is different depending on the length, format, reporter’s style and whether he is working for a print publication, radio/TV station or online publication. A reporter with a monthly magazine generally will have the time to explore a subject more thoroughly than an on-air TV reporter, who, more often than not, is seeking a juicy sound bite.

In every case, executives increase their chances of being included in a story by understanding what a reporter is looking for in a story. This hasn’t changed at all for broadcast, print or online reporters.

Researching a reporter will give you greater insights into what kinds of stories he writes. As reported in The Flack, journalists want you to research what they write about before you contact them. Please don’t pitch a reporter with a story when it’s absolutely clear he doesn’t cover your industry. It gives you, your client/company and PR a bad name!

What Hasn’t Changed?

What hasn’t changed are the kinds of stories reporters cover, which are the same today as they were when writers were grinding out copy on manual typewriters. Use the following tips as your guide when preparing for a media interview.

Hard news. Reporters are always looking for “what’s new.” Are you announcing a new service, holding a press conference to introduce your new CEO, releasing the results of a study? Hard news sells. But it must be timely. Some companies do what they call a “soft launch.” They will introduce a new product in limited release to learn if it does well in the marketplace. But when you announce the national rollout of the product, you’ve got to ‘fess up that it was in test markets first.

Trends. Can you point out trends in your industry that are affecting the way business is done, impacting large numbers of people, or influencing public policy? With the advent of social media, there seems to be a new story every day discussing what’s trending – more people are shopping online, consumers using their mobile devices in greater numbers to access the web, etc.

N E W S © Matthias Buehner Structure. Story telling is at the heart of a media interview. Open with your grabber, to get the reporter’s attention. Reporters like stories with a beginning, middle and an end. They love to hear the words, “For example,” because they know they are likely to hear an interesting story that will clarify an issue and possibly even entertain their readers.

Conflict. A reporter will jump at the chance to interview you if you’re willing to take a controversial point of view, or go against conventional wisdom. She’d be taking notes fast and furiously if you made the claim that people could eat all they want and never gain weight. That’s an example, not really what people think. Just be sure that if you’re representing an organization, you’re promoting its point of view and not your own.

Visuals. Visuals including charts, graphs, photographs and the now ubiquitous infographics will improve a reporter’s understanding of the story and stimulate the interest of her readers or viewers. It will also help you so that you’re not tangled up in a long explanation of how something works.

Juicy quotes. Social media is changing the way we communicate. Have you noticed that quotes, or sound bites, on television are getting shorter and shorter? There is often no time to develop a story line. A sound bite now is most likely one or two sentences, at most. Here are a few famous quotes that have lived on forever:

 “She ran the gamut of emotions from A to B” … Dorothy Parker on Katharine Hepburn.

 “Ask not what your country can do for you. Ask what you can do for your country”… John F. Kennedy in his first inaugural address:

“I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catcher’s mitt on both hands; you need to be able to throw something back” … Maya Angelou

Oddball angles. Reporters like the unexpected turned on its head. Man bites dog. The plain looking and middle-aged British singer Susan Boyle stunned and dazzled the acerbic judge Simon Cowell and his audience on “Britain’s Got Talent” when she belted out a totally unexpected, gorgeous rendition of “I Dreamed a Dream” from Les Misérable. Boyle made news around the world and the former contestant has since gone on to fame and fortune.

Do Your Homework

If you know a reporter likes to write about controversy, but your company is very conservative, then stay away from those kinds of interviews. If you’re unable to articulate a “sound bite” for a TV interview then get media training.

By researching a particular reporter and his media outlet, you will learn quickly how to play a story. If you don’t do your homework, then don’t be surprised if you consent to an interview and the final story isn’t at all what you expected.

Please use the comment box below to let us know how the Internet has changed the way you pitch a story to reporters.

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