Thursday, August 4, 2011

Why Did that Reporter Stand Me Up?

Part  2 of this series ...

The next question on Twitter about journalists' bad habits and manners surprised me a little, because I thought the answer was self-evident. But then I realized that during my 12 years of covering events for four newspapers and The Associated Press, I had indeed heard this complaint numerous times:

"I ask you for a loc. agreement or release form to cover an event. You ignore & cover anyway. Or worse. You commit to covering an event, only to not show up! No explanation, email, nothing."

Well, the first part of that question is easy. If you want a reporter to be at an event, don't make them go through the added hassle of filling out paperwork to cover it. You run the chance that you'll annoy them so that they'll skip it, or, just like this question says, they'll show up without walking through your process first. Why? 

The answer is simple: Time. Understand that a reporter is ruled by the clock. We don't have time to fill out paperwork or get permission to do things. If you want us there, then it's incumbent on you to make it as easy as possible for us to cover your event. This isn't a garden party. This is a news event. You don't issue invitations and expect people to R.S.V.P. Those social niceties don't apply. You want coverage so that your client can get maximum public exposure. So it's up to you, as the host, to grease the skids as much as possible so that the reporter can get in, get the information, and get out as quickly as possible. They don't care about pleasantries or paperwork or asking for permission. They just want the information. Call it rudeness, but they're not concerned about that. 

Have you ever fed a cat in the morning? What does the cat do? Does the cat sit blandly in the window and wait patiently for you to serve up the kittles? No way. That cat badgers you and jumps in your face if you're still sleeping to wake you up. That cat winds around your legs and cries and cries while you open the bag or can of food. That cat doesn't look up when you place the food in front of it. It just shoves its face into the plate and eats as if you haven't fed it in 2 weeks.


The journalist is your cat. I'm sorry if you don't like it, but ... if you want the attention from the cat later, then give the cat what it wants, and don't necessarily expect a thank you in return. Your thanks is the news coverage. That's it.

As for the second part of the question ... why do reporters stand you up?


Follow the smoke, Sherlock.

It's not personal. It has nothing to do with whether you're waltzing into the newsroom like Grace Kelly and charming the pants off of the metro desk with home-baked brownies. (Yes, I've seen PR people do that.)

Plain and simple, a bigger story came up.

A building blew up.

The governor had an affair.

A school bus crashed.

A courtroom defendant just pulled out a gun and mowed down the jury.

You get the idea.

You may have planned the best PR event in the world, with the New York City Rockettes to kick it off. Literally.

But if hard news shows up? You're getting kicked to the curb, and no one -- no one -- is going to take five minutes to pick up the phone and apologize to you. Remember the cat analogy. They're on to the next bright shiny object. If that object is shining more brightly than yours, take a back seat.

Is there a way to avoid something like this from happening? Sometimes. You can plan your event for a slow news day -- a Saturday or the day after Christmas, for example. I can tell you from personal experiences that reporters are just begging for a story on those days. And you may even make a friend for the future. 

You also can make sure there's enough incentive so that if a hard news story does come along, you won't get bumped. How? Make sure your event or person ties into an issue or addresses an ongoing story that's taking place locally. If your story advances another news story, then when the reporter is told by Psycho Editor to cover the fire, they can say, "Well, we have this kitten sale at the elementary school on the calendar, and it's important to cover, because they're going to be addressing the PTA President's embezzlement at a press conference beforehand."

At that point, the editor says, "Oh, right, yeah, that's important. I'll get Joe Schmuck to cover the fire instead."

The bottom line is this: You are the suitor. The reporter is Paris Hilton. You want Paris Hilton, but she has a million things going on, and she isn't going to stop to apologize to you if she can't make it. She also isn't going to fill out paperwork to spend time with you.

So make sure you create an event that will keep her interested enough to show up, no matter what.

And if she doesn't show up?

Don't complain to her. Because no one likes a whiner. 

As for Paris? She just won't care.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Why is That Reporter Rude?

So on Twitter yesterday, some PR professionals weighed in on relationships with journalists. One in particular had some valid concerns about the unprofessional way in which he'd been treated. 

If you're in PR, or, a "Flak" as we "journos" sometimes disparagingly call you, this blog entry is for you. And thanks to my new friend Eric Bryant at for bringing up these questions. 

Today, we tackle the first:

"You wouldn't think that journos were PR's best friends. I can count on 1 hand the # of journos who have been courteous to me." 

So .... why the lack of courtesy? 

A few things are going on behind the scenes, if you're calling a journalist who is working at a daily newspaper, television station, radio station or AP wire service:

1) They're on deadline. I don't know if you've ever tried to write a 10-inch story in 15 minutes or less, but when something breaks and you have that amount of time to finish your phone calls and then crank out accurate, creative, tight copy, you're just not in the frame of mind for a pleasant phone conversation. As a PR professional, your best bet for an adequate chat is to find out when the newsroom is in full deadline mode. Then don't call during that window of time, unless you have a breaking story or quote to offer on one. If you do call, expect a curt and abrupt reception.

2) They're dealing with a psychotic editor.  Let me put this as plainly as I can: the editor sets the tone for the stress level in the newsroom. I've worked with lovely editors who were stand-up individuals and who understood that encouraging reporters was the most effective way to generate the best articles. 

But forgive me if I sound bitter when I say that the industry we know as daily journalism is highly dysfunctional. A lot (a lot!) of emotional abuse takes place behind the closed doors of a newsroom. I've had editors who riddled me with so many obscenities it was as if their mouths were machine guns. One used to throw a pencil at my head when he didn't like my leads. I had another who sexually harassed me. Another slept with my male colleagues and sang their praises to the AP national desk in New York while she pummeled the copy of the female reporters. Another one usually reeked of alcohol from the night before.


You get the idea.

Now this reporter, who is dealing with a living character out of a Stephen King novel, gets a chirpy phone call from YOU. Forgive me for saying this, but if you get two words out of that person, then consider that person to be polite, because it's amazing they can put two words together at all.

Want to know why a reporter doesn't show up for your news event? Tune in tomorrow.