4 Journalist Secrets Every PR Should Know

Handling Comms During COVID-19? We've compiled our best resources.


Illustration by Teresa Dankowski

Illustration by Teresa Dankowski

Last month I wrote a post, 7 PR Pitches That Will Get My Attention Every Time, wherein I listed my favorite pitching practices, backed by my not-so-secret triple identity as a community manager, blogger and freelance journalist. This week I’m putting my journalist cap back on to share with you the 4 Journalist Secrets Every PR Should Know—some ineffable truths I’ve learned from working in the magazine industry, attending a first-rate journalism school (come at me, Mizzou!) and listening to the panel journalists we’ve hosted at Cision events. Ready?

We have a hard time keeping up with e-mail. This isn’t an earth-shattering secret. I’m sure PR pros have a hard time keeping up with e-mail too. But sometimes when you’re convinced that we deleted your e-mail, it’s really that we’re wrapping up an exhausting production cycle, haven’t practiced basic hygiene in days and haven’t gotten the chance to read or reply. Don’t let this frustrate you. In fact, let this motivate you to craft a pitch that stands out. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not a bad idea for you to e-mail us a friendly follow-up—especially if you’re convinced our outlet is a perfect fit. “Hi, I was wondering if you had a chance to read this e-mail or give any consideration to covering this event?” Don’t be stalker-ish, but refresh our memory. Our Cision Breakfast Panel journalists agree with this sentiment—Melanie Eversley, reporter at USA Today, advises, “Be as pushy as you can.” Regarding inboxes, Brian Stelter, reporter at The New York Times, adds, “[We’re] not going to read everything, [so] you have to push it back to the top for us.”

We do appreciate press releases… when they’re done right. A well-written press release can save us tons of time when framing the story. A poorly written press release will turn us off entirely from covering the story. What makes the difference? I think it’s a matter of being real. Journalists don’t take well to embellishment or brand-aggrandizement. We like the facts. For instance, instead of quoting your CEO in a press release, why not take to social media to see what clients or customers are saying about you and quote an external source? Testimonials help us connect your story to our audience. In many cases, it’s given me a leg-up on finding people to interview about your news.

We don’t always follow our editorial calendar. This has been my experience: In late summer, the editorial and advertising sales departments get together and optimistically volley feature and advertorial ideas for the following year. We stick this calendar in our media kit and… cross our fingers that nobody will hold us to it. Naturally, there are recurring columns and themes—our holiday gift guide, for example—that you can expect every month or year. But we can’t predict emerging trends or breaking news, and because print media is strapped for pages, the feature we planned 10 months ago may ultimately get cut. How, then, do you know what to pitch? Help us identify those trends impacting our readers. Follow our breaking news and then offer a solution—an expert, product or perspective—that we haven’t previously considered. Online media employs shorter lead times, so if you miss a newspaper or magazine deadline, there’s a chance we can use your content for our website.

We’re still a bit old-fashioned. Even though more and more journalists are joining Twitter and Facebook, and more and more outlets are embracing digital content and social editor roles, I still can’t help but view us as Woodward and Bernstein-esque dinosaurs, hunched over typewriters, fueled by cigarettes and black coffee, with the fifth season of The Wire playing in the background. Because it’s hyperbolic and hilarious! And because there’s some truth to it? Generally speaking, journalists prefer not to be pitched on social media platforms. Stelter suggests, “Twitter and Facebook aren’t the way to pitch a story—it’s the way to get in our heads, it’s the way to know who we are, know what we’re thinking about and know what we don’t like.” The majority of us still prefer the ancient practice of e-mail. “A lot of reporters have Facebook fatigue,” explains Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer at Columbia University. “E-mail is still the most useful way to get work done,” he says. On top of that, I still prefer to do all of my interviews by phone (or when afforded the luxury, in person). Why? Phone conversations will enable unrehearsed, honest answers, whereas e-mail “conversations” are subject to canned or overtly branded responses. So don’t get weirded out if we ask to talk to you—it’s just part of our Dinosaur Code.

There are many, many journalist secrets still lurking! What are yours? Let us know in the Comments.

If you want to hear more secrets from Melanie Eversley, Brian Stelter and Sree Sreenivasan, be sure to download our Behind The Story: PR Resource Kit, which includes a video of the Cision Breakfast Panel we hosted in New York City, as well as our 10 Tips for How PR Pros Should Be Using Social Media and 10 Tips for Getting Your Pitches Read—And Reported.


About Teresa Dankowski

Teresa Dankowski is a content marketing manager at Cision and covers best practices in marketing, PR and social media. She enjoys printmaking, wine, TV and dominating at rec league softball.

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