The more you know about your target media, the better chance you have of placing an article. That is a good reason for getting to know journalists individually.
At another level, it helps to be aware of common characteristics and larger trends. What traits or dispositions do journalists share? And how are they coping with the industry’s simultaneous contraction in size and expansion into the digital realm?
Hypersensitive, overworked, influenced
I touched upon one of common traits in a post last month, quoting former New York Times technology writer David Pogue, who said buzzwords were a “universal pet peeve,” at least among fellow tech journalists. Maybe that applies even more broadly. By definition, journalists are word experts. Even as they often grow jaded and distrustful of their sources and authority, journalists remain sensitive – at times hypersensitive – to the use and abuse of language. For that reason it is best to approach them accordingly, with direct, plain and truthful words.
Every profession has its “enterprising” and “lazy” practitioners. Most fall in between. Yet journalism has acquired a reputation for inefficiency. In a recent Bloomberg opinion piece Megan McArdle attacked that line of thought – “Lazy Journalists Aren’t to Blame for the Death of Print.” What’s to blame, she said, was the loss of ad revenue, not the output of journalists, who are as efficient as ever. There are fewer of them, to be sure. And over the past decade, many have had to scramble to maintain print products even as they shifted into digital-first mode. Journalists can be hypersensitive; they also are often overworked.
What else do we know about journalists? They can be biased. Which reminds me… In a previous life, as a third-tier subject matter expert in Washington DC, I once agreed to sit for a recorded interview with ABC’s Nightline. Duly made up and under the glare of camera lights, I began answering questions – and re-answering them. After the third or fourth try, I realized that what this producer was after: A cleaned-up version of something I’d said in passing at the outset. Not all journalists “pre-write” their stories and go searching for quotes. But most have inclinations, if not biases, and are already under the influence of a story line.
What to do?
Your job is to become another influence. The templates that journalists carry around with them are often as much timesaving reference points as ideological crutches. Figure out what that prevailing narrative is, then position your news or story pitch within that framework, using simple and direct language. Whenever possible, include a range of evidence – sources, quotes, trend lines and other data. Let your target journalist connect the dots.