On Wednesday November 19th 2014, IABC had the pleasure of hosting an interactive discussion regarding business communication and the media with a panel of experts from various media outlets. The evening was guided by Jennifer Stewart, owner of JSCommunications, who directed a series of questions towards our three panelists – Theophilos Argitis, Ottawa Bureau Chief at Bloomberg News; Mario Carlucci, Director at CBC; and Vassy Kapelos, Parliamentary Correspondent for Global National, before allowing attendees to pose a series of questions for themselves.
The event began promptly at 6pm, after guests had a chance to grab a cocktail and socialize with their fellow attendees. After everyone had found a seat, Jennifer Stewart introduced the panel of experts, and began the question period by asking them what got them hooked on journalism. For Theo, a career in journalism gave him something new to look forward to everyday. It allowed him to work right in the middle of the action, and interact with new and intelligent people on a daily basis, which further enriched his own pool of knowledge. Likewise, the immediacy of the profession is what hooked Vassy. Having always been a news junkie and surrounding herself with various news stories, it made perfect sense to pursue a career in the industry. Finally, Mario fell into the profession after discovering that he had a profound appreciation for journalism and would rather report on politics than become a politician.
In discussing how social media has affected today’s newsroom, the panel explained that social media drives the agenda, and is a source of free information that provides varied opinions on events or subject matter. Furthermore, they explained that social media is an important medium for building contacts and allows journalists an opportunity to promote their work, while letting their personalities shine through. Elaborating upon the notion of immediacy, Jennifer asked the experts whether it is still possible to perform investigative journalism, and really dig into issues in today’s time sensitive society. While the experts agreed that it has become harder to devote a substantial amount of time on one story, due to deadlines and proliferated media platforms (that all require attention), it is still possible so long as the journalist is willing to fight for it.
While it may appear as through there is less investigative journalism taking place, newer media platforms allow everyone (professional or not) to become an investigative reporter. Jennifer then directed the panel towards the notion of story pitching, and asked the three experts how they like to be pitched. Once again, there appeared to be a consensus among the panelists, as they all agreed that calling a journalist is the preferred medium of contact. They recommended that PR practitioners should attempt to build relationships with journalists and get to know them on a personal level, in order to facilitate the story pitching process. However, whether you know a journalist or not, you need to be able to convince the journalist that the story is news worthy. According to Theo, some main elements of a good story pitch include surprise, tension and individuals/personalities.
Finally, before opening the discussion up to the audience, Jennifer asked the panel what advise they have for anyone trying to enter the journalism/broadcast field. They explained that anyone trying to enter the field needs to have a passion for what they are doing. Mario furthered upon this notion by discussion the thirst for knowledge – as a journalist, you need to be curious, and continuously try to educate yourself (whether it is through formal education, or life experiences). Likewise, Vassy explained that as a journalist, you need to love what you are doing, and be genuine in your reporting. Finally, Theo explained that the conventional business model of journalism is broken. There is more information out there, and more people reporting on issues at a low cost. However, while there is a plethora of free information out there, it reinforces how it is an exciting time to be a journalist and that the industry is thriving.
Following this discussion, Jennifer then opened the floor up to the audience and allowed guests to pose questions as it may relate to their particular profession. Below are some of the questions that generated conversations amongst the panelists:
Q: In building relationships with journalists, is there an implicit understanding that there are tight deadlines that need to be adhered to? And can you burn bridges if you cannot respond within said deadline?
A: Journalism is a very time sensitive industry, so if a journalist calls you and you can only respond a few days later, you’ll have lost your opportunity to be interviewed – timeliness is key. You wont burn bridges per say if you cannot make a deadline for a journalist, but it is best practice to let them know that it may not be feasible if you know you may not be able to accommodate their request. Don’t drag the issue out; let them know that you cannot make their deadline so that they may move on to another source in order to get their story out in time.
Q: Are journalists receptive to Rolodex cards in terms of subject matter experts?
A: Yes, there are quite a few industries that do a good job of contacting the media when a story breaks to let them know that they have an expert on staff that is willing to answer any questions relating to the subject matter. This is appreciated, as journalists then have a confirmed source that they can use for interviews.
Q: With regards to crisis communication, are there any expectations from journalists when companies host the media during a crisis situation?
A: It depends on the situation, but the most important thing that journalists are looking for is access to information, such as someone (an expert/spokesperson etc.) who can provide them with information about the issues in a timely manner. Having the right spokesperson also goes a long way – corporations need to choose someone trustworthy that is able to answer media questions in a sincere/honest manner. Beyond that, a soundboard and a room with a clear view for interviews is a bonus.
Q: In terms of corporations seeking media attention for events that may appear dry in content, is there any way to pitch the story so that it will get picked up?
A: In order to get a story/event picked up by the media, it needs to be compelling and show impact. With dry topics such as a medical awards ceremony there needs to be a story within the story – highlight the impact an award recipient had on the community, or the impact of their discovery etc. The story becomes more compelling if there are visuals and the reporter is able to speak with the recipient, and the people that he/she affected.
After the audience questions had been answered, Jennifer concluded the panel discussion by highlighted 7 points that were discussed over the course of the evening:
- Offer journalists an exclusive
- Use embargoes
- Have personality and don’t rely on corporate accounts (on social media)
- Respect deadlines
- Be sincere (especially in the case of crisis communication)
- Use human-interest stories
- Use visuals