In May, the Indianapolis chapter of the Public Relations Society of America hosted a Meet the Media panel. Four journalists (see right) answered questions about how they and their colleagues continue to work (from home) during this time. During the hour-long Zoom call they offered what I will call “great reminders” about the foundation of media relations and great relationships. Bottom line, the basics still apply regardless of where reporters are working.
Here’s a summary of what we heard.
Not all stories are about COVID-19. The Indianapolis Star’s Alvie Lindsay says the Indianapolis Star reporters are still doing routine stories, so keep offering ideas. All journalists said they are getting a lot of email right now because everyone is working. Alvie said if you have an idea, follow up. Be professionally persistent and know what will resonate with a reporter.
Know the beat. If you have an idea, look at the media outlet’s website and find the right reporter to offer the story idea. Reporters typically work in “beats” or topic areas. The Indianapolis Star has a webpage that shows their reporters and what they cover. Most local television stations have a webpage too. If you don’t find the right reporter, just ask to be redirected.
Keep the pitch brief. Someone on the Zoom called asked if reporters would set a time to do a virtual call to talk about a story. AnneMarie Tiernon explained that the day is packed with deadline upon deadline until she has to go live from home. Finding extra time to talk by phone or virtually is tough. If you cannot explain a story topic or angle in a few sentences, it may not be a good story.
Be prepared. AnneMarie also stressed being prepared. Right now, reporters are depending on sources to have visuals prepared for them. That means photos, Canva graphics and interviews. And know how to transfer the data quickly and easily. Talking points are essential too. She’s on a deadline. If an interview is requested, be sure to be as responsive as possible.
Day of is a don’t. Because news is now 24/7 it’s natural to think sending a notice to a newsroom the day of make sense. These reporters say no it doesn’t. If you have an event send the information at least 48 hours before. If there’s a story idea involved, send it as soon as possible. Reporters are working on news stories weeks if not days before they run.
New gets covered once. Dirk Rowley said a Ft. Wayne family hosted a funeral service in their front yard for neighbors to join them in mourning. It was moving and was covered by WANE. He said the news staff is seeing a lot of new that they’re covering but don’t call to request that coverage a second time.
Emails are saved. Lesley Weidenbender from the IBJ says she keeps emails because during a discussion about news coverage ideas always come up again. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t hear back. She just might have flagged your message for future coverage.
As Indiana begins to reopen, these reporters don’t expect their work situations to change in the near future. Just like the rest of us, reporters will continue to office at home and seek to stay safe and healthy.