At the time I paid little attention to the buzz for a couple of reasons:
- It's true that social media is changing PR, but it's not dead;
- It's always been a good idea to have a relationship with editors, reporters, journalists (that's not a new or novel concept);
- I wanted to see how it would all pan out. Well, it seems to have dies away as quickly as it started.
Recently, Nicole Hamilton put it so succinctly in a comment on one of my previous posts: "My logic, if I was pitching a journalist/blogger who wasn't interested in what I was pitching them, it was a waste of their time which only equates to a waste of mine." Very smart! Need I say more?
So, I thought, why not reach out to journalists/bloggers/etc. to get their thoughts on pitches today and social media.
This two-part series includes interviews with Ronnie Polaneczky of the Philadelphia Daily News and Rich Miller of Data Center Knowledge. These are fairly long interviews, but I think if you read them all the way through, you'll find their insights invaluable and you might just change your mind about how you consider working with the media in the future...and just how social you truly need to be!
Let's kick it off!
Ronnie Polaneczky is an award-winning columnist with the Philadelphia Daily News. Where she's been hanging her hat since 1999. Ronnie also records a podcast called So What Happened Was. Ronnie's diverse background also includes being editor-in-chief of Atlantic City Magazine, associate editor at Philadelphia Magazine and a fulltime freelancer that has been published in magazines like Ladies Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, Reader's Digest, Men's Health, and MarieClaire.
[Disclosure: Ronnie is my dear cousin. But make no mistake! I still had to send her a pitch e-mail, I still asked if she was on deadline when I called, and I still had to fit into her schedule for an hour-long interview (not easy to do even if it is family!). Regardless of whether or not you have a relationship with an editor, journalist, reporter, etc. this is just good etiquette to abide by.]
Without further ado...
1. Do you think the public relations profession and how PR professionals interact with journalists has changed over the years?
Yes, in a big way. I get a lot less phone calls now; most of the pitches or reader contact I receive is via e-mail. Just like most journalists, I'm pressed for time, so I don't miss the phone calls. The other thing is that a lot of times PR folks didn't do enough homework before pitching me. I don't write about perfume or cars, and if they read my column they'd know that, but I'd get perfume or car calls anyway. Any contact based on an unprepared pitch is a waste people's time (mine and theirs). When people call with a bad pitch, it's harder to get off the phone than it is to just go on to the next e-mail.
2. What a great segue into my next question. Every journalist receives unprepared and unrelated pitches. What's your take on this?
I see it as junk mail, like the junk mail all of you get at home. It's a whole lot cheaper for people to pitch via e-mail, so they send their stuff to everyone and hope it gets picked up by someone, anyone. In that way, it's become like background noise. Because e-mail is cheaper to send than snail-mail, I think it's made people a bit lazy and less focused. Obviously, I would prefer if some of it weren't even coming into my inbox. But, the things I am interested in and that have a great subject line and pitch really stand out. If PR folks did their homework, their pitches and their stories would be that much more successful.
Because I don't get many PR calls, when someone does call and just wants to pick my brain-and if I can tell they're genuine-I'll give them a few minutes of time. I like to hear what they have to say. If it's not my beat but someone else's, I'll pass the information along to the appropriate person.
3. Do you think your on-line column and podcasts make readers feel more connected to you?
I hope so! Daily, on-line journalism is much different than print-only journalism. Some people will leave an on-line comment at the end of my column, but people also e-mail me their comments. I try to answer all of my e-mail; sometimes an e-mail will fall through the cracks, and I feel bad about that. I try not to respond to any e-mail that's pointedly offensive or obnoxious, but if someone has buried a good point within their venom I might type out a response. Sometimes I get into a really long e-mail exchange, especially with someone who is making great points and adding to the conversation. Comments and e-mail are definitely ways to connect.
I've also noticed that people who comment on-line to my column sometimes use the comments section to comment to each other. I tend not to break into any of these comments. My feeling is, I've had my say with my piece; it's time for the readers to have their say about what I've said!
4. How do you know if you're connecting with readers?
If my piece touched a lot of nerves or emotions that day, I'll know by the e-mails I receive. Also, if you're a columnist that a lot of people have gotten to know, sometimes they just Google your name to see what you're thinking about that day. The paper also promotes its columnists as "personalities," so readers respond not just because of what we've written that day but because of a kind of "reader relationship" they've developed with us over the years.
For example, I have a reader I met online through my column. We had on-going e-mail interactions and then we met in person. I now get a call once a month from her, just so she can tell me what she thinks about what's happening in the city, whether it's related to a column I've written or not. I love my readers; I have a sense of who they are and what we all care about. Of course, some readers hate me, and they let me know it. That's fine - if you put your opinion out there, not everyone is going to agree with it.
Success to me is if people are reading my column and responding to it. That is, did the column do something that I wanted it to do? The mission of journalism isn't always to give people what they want; it's to tell them what is - especially if a tale of injustice needs to be told. In journalism, one of my favorite sayings is "The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable."
5. What is the biggest change your newspaper is undergoing right now?
Like every other big news organization, we're adapting to the fact that news is 24/7 and we are updating all the time. It's an exciting time to be involved in the industry. The newspapers that saw it coming are in better shape today than those newspapers that are playing catch-up.
Another big change is that I'm setting up a blog. It's something that I really wanted to do because there is more to write about that I am able to fit in a column and a podcast. It's a great way to give updates about people and issues I've already written about, a place to share reactions to my columns, and a way to share about cool things going on in Philadelphia. It will be very much related to people and less about my own musings, I think. I'd like to be both a moderator and a participant, but I need to see how it evolves.
6. What are the largest sections/areas of coverage in their paper?
Sports, for sure! And it should be, Philadelphia has a huge amount of fans. And we have some of the best sports writers in the country.
7. How have you started using social media tools in preparing your articles? If so, have you found them useful?
Obviously, the Internet is my main research tool. But it's no substitute for going out and talking to people. I get the best story ideas from being out of the office, or from real, live people contacting me directly. You've got to be curious and interested. When readers call or e-mail about my column, it can lead to other conversations if I also ask what's new or what they do for a living or what they're thinking about these days. A lot of my columns wouldn't happen if I were only scrolling through the Internet looking for ideas. They come from being involved with people.
8. What are traditional journalist's views on bloggers and how (if) are they changing as the space continues to grow?
I think blogs are like anything else: Some are really wonderful and some aren't. You get to know the voices on the blog and you connect with the people who write them. They're also a source for new or different information, just as the mainstream media is a source of information for the bloggers. The challenge is to find the best ones. The world got much bigger with blogs; there are more chances for more voices to be heard.
Thank you Ronnie! Up next, an interview with Rich Miller of Data Center Knowledge.
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