Cision’s 2020 State of the Media Report: Provide Resources, not Releases and Other Top Tips from Journalists
The first half of 2020 has been riddled with unprecedented challenges for journalists as the media industry is reeling from the after-effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides dealing with an influx of news and filing their stories at home, some of them are now grappling with the uncertain financial situation of media organisations. To make sense of this conundrum, PR Newswire’s parent company Cision has recently released its 2020 State of the Media Report, an annual survey that delves into the priorities, challenges and trends in the global media landscape.
Cision invited three journalists, who are based in the United States and Canada, to discuss the report’s findings in a webinar. They are Sarah Paynter, Reporter, Yahoo! Finance, Anthony Ha, Senior Writer, TechCrunch and Julie Carl, Senior Editor, Toronto Star to share how communications professionals can be helpful and add value to their work during this challenging period.
1. Make press releases straightforward and effective
According to the 2020 State of the Media report, press releases are ranked the most useful source of brand information by journalists.
Julie Carl, Senior Editor, Toronto Star said: “ A press releases can close the gap between ‘I know who you are’ and ‘you’re someone new’.” She adds that the e-mail subject line should not just say ‘press release’ and the content should be tightly written, on top having a spokesperson that is readily accessible.
One of her pet peeves is receiving press releases that are loaded with buzzwords. “We don’t know what these words mean,” she says. “Put them in simple and everyday terms; pretend that you’re telling something to your grandmother.”
For technology-related press releases, Anthony Ha, Senior Writer, TechCrunch points out that that there is “a tendency to slide into nebulous language”. He said: “The press release ends up being a bunch of buzzwords that I don’t understand. When you are talking about new products, include a specific description of what the product does.”
Besides press releases, some journalists regularly receive reports and studies that they use to substantiate key points in their articles. Sarah Paynter, a Yahoo Finance reporter, prefers to use reports and studies by large and well-known organizations, as the information tends to be more credible. That said, she is still open to using data and findings from start-ups. She says: “I will want to know about their research methodology and reach out to some experts to see if the source is trustworthy. If you are a start-up, you just have to be a quality organization and that will speak for itself.
2. Send targeted and relevant email pitches
Carl thinks that building a personal connection with journalists goes a long way in ensuring that pitches get picked up down the road. She recalled: “When I used to go out to speak to community groups about how they could get media coverage, I urged them to look out for for a reporter who covers topics that you’d want a story on. You either call them up or email them and say ‘I think you are doing a wonderful job, I have been reading your work’. That will make the pitch stand out as we only hear about what we did wrong!”
She added that it is vital to understand upcoming topics that a reporter is likely to cover in light of recent news, and present relevant spokespersons that can contribute their perspectives to the article. She said: “Tell the reporter ‘If ever the day comes when you need someone to comment on a topic, I have some ideal people’ and get ready to hand over their contact details.” This will leave a positive impression on journalists as the PR professional will be viewed as a reliable source who can be tapped on for future stories.
Understanding the media organization’s structure and work dynamics is also crucial. Ha said: “Try and find out more about the organization you are pitching to. This is not necessarily transparent but at TechCrunch, we are a very writer-driven organization, so it makes sense to pitch to a writer rather than an editor.”
Paynter added: “I may not remember a good pitch but I do remember people who have reached out to me as a person.” She recounted an e-mail pitch with the title ‘Resources, not Releases’. “The PR professional talked me through on what their company does and established a relationship first before going into the pitch, so developing a relationship with a reporter is very important,” she concluded.
3. The impact of COVID-19 on journalists
The pandemic has forced some newsrooms to implement remote work arrangements, with many journalists working from home or on staggered shifts for the foreseeable future.
What Carl misses most is the interactions with her colleagues. She lamented: “What is lost in that is the casual conversations with your colleagues, like ‘I heard you are going to do this but now you are not going to do it. Does it fit here?’ Stories evolve better in a newsroom – like building a mosaic.”
For Ha, working remotely has set clearer boundaries of office hours for him, despite the porous work situation. He said: “I have no interest in answering any work emails at 9pm unless Google has acquired Facebook. Just because I am home and can write a story doesn’t mean that I want to.”
This period can also be overwhelming for journalists, who have to cover COVID-19 related stories, which are mostly negative in nature, on a daily basis. This has left some of them feeling stressed and burnt-out.
On managing her mental health, Paynter said: “ I am narrowing the scope of the things I am going to cover and am not responding to as many emails as before. That is the strategy at my organization that I should focus more on important things and not get caught up on the smaller things.
Download Cision’s 2020 State of the Media Report to get more journalist insights on pitching preferences, and trends and challenges in today’s complex media landscape so that you can create better relationships with the media and gain more coverage.
This blog post is written by Kenneth Goh, Senior Marketing Executive at PR Newswire. A former journalist, he relishes keeping track of breaking news as much as telling stories with trends and data. Connect with him via Linkedin.