Mobile Fact-Finding

If there's one thing I was so eager to take on when I became a full-fledged newspaper reporter was the chance to fact-find beyond the confines of armchair reporting.  It's a lesson I pass on to you. 

Working With Press Officers

Whether they want to or not, the lonely journalist
needs information from press officers.  
In today's world of thoroughly dispensed news, entities like major corporations, city agencies and more importantly political candidates hire folks who specialize in working with journalists.  Whatever they like to be called--spokespersons, public relations officers, media specialists--their main intent there is to put their clients in the best possible light, even if it means ignoring their client's lousy attributes that make it hard for PR reps to work for them.  Some just want to control the conversation. Here's a break down of what's going on with press officers.

Back In The Day...
Gabe Pressman, the living legend of news in the New York market, told a recent group of folks at The New York Press Club that talking to sources was so easy back then that one can just approach an officer who can give you the gist of a breaking news event.  Now news dissemination from all circles is controlled, more corporate in terms of how many layers one has to peel before getting answers from the press office.  The point of these press offices is to protect the interests of their clients.

It's all because somewhere along the way these entities were making mistakes, divulging a little too much information.  There came a point where these entities began to hire folks who were skilled at words, much like a lawyer when delivering his/her opening statements before a jury.  They were brought in to lessen the blow, no matter what it took.

To be fair, some journalists have botched stories to the point where the truth is completely re-written.  That stems from a journalist failing to pay attention.

Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Trend 
Throughout the nearly ten years working with public relations reps I've noticed a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde trend--their personalities shift depending on their needs.  So if they are launching a press event where they're releasing their product, public relations reps will do anything to be available, introducing you to the president, vice-president and/or others who may have nothing to do with the project at hand.  Press reps would likely stand next to the reporter, a practice so common it should be banned.  It's even happened on 60 Minutes where correspondent Steve Kroft interviewed murder suspects with their tram of lawyers on hand.  Good grief.   

Then there are public relations folks who simply stonewall, doing whatever it takes to ignore the media by not returning phone calls or sending emails past deadline, the latter being more damaging to their client.  A legitimate question does pop up frequently--why, if they knew they had to work with the media, do they avoid the media entirely?  I never got a straight answer from a press officer from that.  But I will update it when I do get a response.

My guess is they were hired there to just ignore the media unless there's a very pressing issue.

How To Handle Them
One thing I've found in working with press officers is to simply explain to them why you're calling.  I normally email them a list of questions to ensure it's on the record.  I then follow that up with a phone call.  Most of the time, so long as spelling and your argument is valid, they will respond.  Emphasize that you don't want to put "no comment" on your article since it just doesn't make them look good.

In some instances it takes plenty of time (sometimes years) to build a relationship with a public relationships expert.  Small conversation, unrelated events and/or contracts helps develop a sense of trust between press officers and journalists.

Finally, try and understand where they're coming from.  After developing a solid relationship I then start to go into uncharted territory, namely the whole off the record routine.  Sometimes they give me pretty juicy tips that I can air.  But by keeping quiet I have passed their loyalty test.  In the end I develop a good enough source for future on the record tips.

News Harvest
There's always been this longstanding feud between journalists and press officers, simply because the interests are different.  While journalists are bound to the citizens by dispensing information that's considered the truth, press officers pledge themselves to their corporate entities.  The spin machine will not go away, but it can be controlled by genuinely forming allegiances with press folks.  By understanding their side one can form a healthy relationship with press folks.  

How News Is Consumed

Great article in the Columbia Journalism Review on news consumption.  Worth checking out.
Great article in the Columbia Journalism Review
on news consumption.  Worth checking out.
The social media trend is stronger than ever, according to The Pew Research Center, America's media think tank.  In its 2013 State of the News Media, researchers discovered:

- 72% of Americans hear their news through "word of mouth" as opposed to personally hearing/reading/watching it.

- 23% within the demographic of age 18-29 say they get news from family and friends

- 43% of tablet users are consuming more news since getting a tablet

- 60% of Americans under the age of 50 receive yesterday's news from a mobile device

- 60% of Americans have heard next to nothing about the financial crisis in newsrooms

- 31% of Americans have abandoned a news outlet because it doesn't give them the news they want

- 80% percent jump in mobile-ad spending since 2012

- 64% of those gaining ad-profits are Google, Yahoo!, Facebook, Microsoft and AOL

- 7% of digital-ad spending is being allocated to mobile ads

- 54.5% of ad-spending goes to Google

- 450 daily newspapers are in the works of adding a paywall

Why This Matters To Journalists
News is consumed way differently than during it's Golden Age when consumers went to the the news.  These days we're in what Ben Adler of The Columbia Journalism Review called "the era of customization," where consumers (a.k.a. millennials)  are calling the shots.  They have a range of options these days, heading to sites that would provide the kind of news they prefer.

But in an ironic way, perhaps punishment against the media's patronizing of consumers, a consumer rebellion has taken place.  No longer are they going to us--we're going to the consumers.  This reversal has put media outlets in a frenzy, venturing into uncharted territory.  With consumers able to go to all different types of niche mediums, a level of fragmentation occurs putting the journalist in a corner.

Fragmentation has also produced over-saturation, giving advertisers plenty of choices of who to do business with.  This has also forced paywalls, a turnoff for media consumers so used to getting news for free.

If You Can't Beat Them...
At least try and level the playing field some.  Social media is perhaps the best way for outlets to spread their information in a coherent and less desperate way.  For instance, The Bronx Times Reporter, e paper I work for, has seen a 300% increase in web traffic for over the past year thanks to our editor and reporters posting information on Facebook and Twitter.

It's also important for editors to be at the forefront of news operations instead of working behind the curtain.  People want to feel their concerns are being heard, even better to be addressed. This allows for an interactive experience between consumers and editors.

News Harvest Conclusion
In the span of a decade, the tables have turned on journalists thanks to robust social media presence, a fragmented audience and old school way news is consumed.  This has put journalist in a bind, trying to morph in a changing world.

Climbing Mount Branding

It took me several years to pick up this strategy up, which can put you ahead of the pack in your early years: BRAND YOURSELF.  It's common for job recruiters, particularly those in the news business, to Google who you are, what you represent and how knowledgeable you are.  Ruby Media Group presented a study from Execunet showing 75% of companies are required to dig up any digital dirt on applicants.  With the buyer beware notice given, here are some tips that can help you conquer the Mountain of Branding.

What You Can Offer
Just what exactly are you good at?  The question requires plenty of self-vetting and hard questions.  Are your writing skills up to par?  Are your organizational skills admirable?  How passionate are you about news?  These are questions you need to answer before sharing your accomplishments and desires with the world.  Take maybe an hour or even a week to jot down your strengths, then take your top three attributes.  From there, you use those skills as building blocks to your exposure.  

Before writing this website I took plenty of stock over what my skills are.  I knew I had diehard passion in sharing my knowledge of the industry with folks, and from what close friends told me I'm a great teacher.  But given my limited means I lacked the wherewithal to go about doling the experienced advice I picked up.  I decided to go with this website because a) it offers me the World Wide Web b) I enjoy giving meaningful advice to new journalists and c) it's something to add to the resume.

Use Social Media
It's a pretty easy concept.  Social media is coming out of our ears these days it would only make sense to jump on this.  Brand building doesn't just take word of mouth (though it's arguably the best advertiser), but social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or even Blogger to help spread your reputation.  With Facebook you can link with folks who have similar tastes.  Twitter offers you the chance to draft a quick, insightful comment within 140-character bracket and LinkedIn allows you to make an impression on your future boss.

Social media is here to stay, so it's critical to get to know these sites that could introduce you to new contacts unaware of your ability as a journeyman.  I think LinkedIn is perhaps the most important site for building your brand.  From my experience it allows you to post updates on your professional accomplishments, reach out to your old leads or even send your LinkedIn mail directly to hiring managers.

The best part about using these social media tools is they all have apps, freeing you from staying stuck in front of the computer.  So if you're on-the-go or waiting for a press conference to start you can just post a quick update, Tweet or just start a conversation on LinkedIn boards.

Joining Professional Groups
I've benefitted from joining several groups that have helped increase my exposure and meet like minded people.  Based on my experience I certainly  recommend these two:

The New York Press Club - Believe it or not I recently joined this club since I finally qualified to be a part of it.  The organization helps working journalists connect with other journalists in the field.  I went to a forum on the First Amendment and the Department of Justice's investigation of journalists.  It was an eye-opening experience.

The Writer's Guild of America - This organization was mandated by CBS when working there.  The company unionized a while back, forcing me to join.  But do I regret it?  Absolutely not.  The organization puts you in touch with other prospective writers in news and entertainment.  There are forums you can participate, workshops and other perks, like free films during awards season.  

Do's and Don'ts 

DO: Share your news articles, radio wraps or television reports to the world, attaching links if you're unable to post on your own site.

DON'T: Post unprofessional comments or photos.  It's self-evident those are considered major no-no's if you intend to conquer the branding market.  Remember, debauchery can be used against you.  

DO: Tell everyone about your LinkedIn, Facebook or Twitter page.  Remember, getting your name out there starts with you so self-promote as much as possible even if it means creating business cards.  

DON'T: Work on your social media site while working in office.  It's tactless and unprofessional.

DO: Understand your target audience so reach out to your eager audience willing to lend you their ears.

Constant Promotion
You're your biggest promoter, so it's critical you share your accomplishments, triumphs and your future goals.  Every Tweet, posting or perhaps an article is another step towards getting recognized and perhaps landing your next job.  But it all starts with you.  

Interview Featured In Iona College Newsletter

David Cruz at The Bronx Times Reporter
David Cruz at The Bronx Times Reporter
To give you a sense of me, the author of News Harvest, I decided to publish this full interview from a newsletter printed by Iona College, my alma mater.  The newsletter was published by the school's Mass Communication's Department in spring 2013.  Enjoy: