Karen Travers – White House Digital Reporter, ABC Television Network
ABC News officially announced the expansion of its digital reporter corps this month, and named staffers in Detroit and Denver, as well as coverage of the political and economy beats. The network originally launched the digital reporter position in 2007 by deploying several reporters overseas.
“It’s an entirely new platform for us,” Travers said. “It’s recognition that the digital demand is just going to get bigger and bigger.”
Travers will report, write and file on-camera reports for many different ABC outlets, including abcnews.go.com, ABC News Now, The World News Webcast, ABC News Radio and various ABC news blogs. And with the news industry continuing to change rapidly, the network has all hands on deck.
“ABC has definitely really made this commitment that they want to take this digital thing and run with it and see what we can do. And expand it with the iPhone and online, and get video coming to their cell phones, all of that.” she said.
“It’s really nice, it’s a mixed bag of everything,” she continued. “And there’s a willingness to try new things, it can be really enterprising I think.”
This isn’t Travers’ first time covering the White House: She was previously a deputy political director for the 2008 presidential elections and covered the Bush-Cheney 2004 campaign as well as George W. Bush’s second term. She has been with ABC since she graduated college and always had an interest in ABC, even before she decided to go into journalism.
“I grew up watching Peter Jennings, and Diane Sawyer, and Charlie Gibson on Good Morning America,” she said.
Having majored in government and economics at Georgetown University, it wasn’t until she interned with ABC her senior year that she realized political journalism was a better direction. After graduation, she immediately set her sights on ABC and applied no where else.
“I pretty much banked everything on ABC,” she said.
It was risky but luck was on her side. She came to the network during very interesting news times, including President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial. After working the assignment desk for a year she joined Nightline as a researcher, just three weeks after the September 11th attacks.
Since digital sources have expanded tremendously since her last stint covering the White House, Travers said it’s been exciting to be a part of this new venture.
“Everything we do has to be multi-platform right now, multimedia,” she said. This time around, her role is more focused on seeing the big picture.
“We’re not necessarily worrying about the minute-by-minute [news], but what can we do tomorrow, what we can do next week,” she said. “I think it’s about trying to get off the headlines a little bit.”
The goal is to find more of the story behind the headline.
“Let’s do a little bit more, let’s go behind the curtain or let’s go one layer deeper on this and give them a different perspective,” she said. “Because I think that’s the kind of thing we can serve our audience very well with.”
She admits political journalism is not without its challenges.
“I think with politics, getting at the heart of the story [is tough], because there is an entire industry set up to make sure reporters are hearing what the candidate or politician wants them to hear,” she said. “And what those people get paid to do is to get their message out. What we have to do is hear that message, but then get to what actually matters and sometimes that means getting to the truth.”
Even though the news industry is changing, she believes it has advantages.
“We are definitely trying to engage more with the audience, and get that feedback and that relationship that wasn’t there pre e-mail or pre Internet.” she said. “That can only make your reporting better because you’re exposed to so many different perspectives and ideas.”
As for her overall goal, she said “I just want to keep holding their feet to the fire at the White House.”
Travers understands it can be hard for a PR person to personalize a pitch, but it’s important to understand the beats the reporters cover. She covers the White House specifically, so it’s important to find that angle with anything that’s being pitched.
“It’s just a matter of understanding what a reporter does, not just saying, ‘Hey I got a great story about x, y and z’; but saying, ‘I got a great story, here’s a good voice, this is unique because…’”
She admits that having previous contact or a relationship is always the easiest way to get a response. But she knows it’s impossible to always have that, so finding other ways to grab attention is important.
One way of doing that is with a good headline at the start of the pitch, or even in the subject line. Be clever, get to the point and be concise she explained. She also stresses that anyone pitching must really understand what ABC news puts on the air and what their audience is looking for.
“Certain shows go for certain types of stories and it’s understanding which shows do what,” she said. “So you can target your pitch as effectively as possible.”
She doesn’t like getting too much email from the same organization.
“If something really stands out it’s because I haven’t heard from them a lot,” she said.
Travers prefers all pitching and contact be done through e-mail. Avoid sending image attachments whenever possible because they work primarily on their blackberries remotely and it can be difficult to view.
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