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The State of Chicago Media

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Open communication between journalists and public relations professionals is always good business etiquette for all involved. It’s important to not only keep up with media industry advances in technology and social media, but to also stay connected and build personal relationships that last.

Last Thursday, PRSA Chicago hosted a panel discussion titled “The State of Chicago Media” at local watering hole, English, to open the lines of communication and offer tips on pitching stories to main Chicago media outlets and its gatekeepers.

The panelists included Jim Walsh, news editor at the daily RedEyePam Oliver, producer and news planning editor at WMAQ-TV NBC 5; and James Janega, manager of Trib Nation – the Chicago Tribune’s community blog and monthly events group.

Moderated by Ryan Richert, executive vice president of Edelman Media, the discussion started out by sharing what each media member would predict to be the biggest change for 2013.

All three panelists gave similar answers – more digital offerings and platforms to work with. Janega expects an enormous amount of change and upheaval. Walsh said that a new way of thinking has already been implemented in the newsroom. “Everything we are doing now, we are thinking of in terms of ‘how are we going to report this on print?’ ‘how are we going to report on this for the app’ and ‘how are we going to report on this for the Web?’ We are rewriting and editing a lot of stuff,” he explained.

“The changes that we are already seeing, and will continue to see, are using various platforms. Specifically, the digital channels,” Oliver said. One new platform the station recently began using is the free Zeebox app, which allows viewers to watch programming and interact in real time, much like Twitter hashtag discussions.

Another big change for NBC 5 was the recent move away from the iconic street studio on Michigan Avenue with all the staff now at NBC Tower – one block east. “Our boss wanted everyone at the same place. The studio was so very 90’s,” she joked.

For digital, video is important aspect in storytelling and all three outlets are stretching the limits of how it’s being used and presented. Jenega finds that the capabilities of technology certainly make reporting easier, citing a time during the Chicago NATO Summit last May, when smartphones were used to report immediate updates. “Video adds value,” he said.

Walsh agreed and said that for the RedEye, video is used as a premium. He explained that an up and coming Chicago band may be featured in the paper, but then have a full interview and video available online and on the RedEye app. Also, he said RedEye social media manager Jessica Galliart (@JessicaGalliart) has used Twitter’s new video tool, Vine, to show readers a look into the paper’s daily news meeting and other entertaining insider shenanigans.

At NBC 5, all of the reporters have iPads so that they can record and take photos at a moment’s notice. “If they are out some place, they might be off that day and shoot it and feed it back to us through their iPad—not a full story—but a clip from that can be used,” Oliver said. “Our reporters are also awesome photographers. Those photos can create a gallery to be put on the Web.”

Oliver explained that video from PR people can be used in a broadcast or for the Web for special circumstances. For example, reporting on a baby dolphin birth at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, Oliver could use video of the newborn calf and give credit with a “provided by…” disclaimer.

All three agreed that for sending video, always offer a video link and not a download. DVD footage works as well, as long as it’s finalized.

As far as pitching preferences and pet peeves, all three panelists gave great and useful advice.

“For RedEye, a story really boils down to key elements; does it have a headline? Does it have a good visual element?” Walsh said. “We look for things like conflict, why do people care?” Moreover, he said to know what types of stories they write and who their audience is, and to do the proper research. “My advice would be to treat it like a job interview; this is good for you because of x, y and z. Cater your pitch,” he said.

As a NBC 5 staffer since 1986, Oliver knows the ins and outs of a story and what traits make for a good publicist. “Someone who thinks like a producer,” she said. “When you think like a producer, you think ‘What’s the story?’ ‘How do we visually tell this story?’ ‘Who will talk to us?’ ‘Is there a compelling story beyond the talking head? Who do [the viewers] want to see? Because that’s what I have to think about…now I know exactly what you have and what we need to shoot.”

Oliver also explained a repeated behavior from PR professionals that can irritate her. It happens when she is pitched a specific story and she replies to say that she can’t do that specific story, but could possibility do a story on “X” instead. The publicist says okay and then when Oliver doesn’t run the story quickly enough within the next few days, she receives a release blast to everyone with story “X” Oliver just handed to them. To put it simply, the publicist takes Oliver’s story idea and opens the door to all other media outlets, now making the story not exclusive. “Happens all the time,” she said.

To Janega, a good PR professional is someone who has access and a personal relationship. Working at the Tribune since 1999, he has built relationships with PR people over the years that he knows he can count on for quality and humanistic stories. “The thing to remember is access. We realize you represent an expert and that’s what we like to get. Or people who are living through this story, is what matters. Statistics. These three things matter to us a lot,” he said. “These people know what moves our readers, what has meaning and what moves the human spirit.”

The panel discussion ended with a few questions from the audience and its noteworthy to say while these journalists are Chicago-based, it is likely that these practices are shared by other journalists in various markets.

For more information on your local PRSA chapter events, visit


Contact Information

Jim Walsh, news editor

435 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611

Pam Oliver, producer and news planning editor
454 N Columbus Dr.
Chicago, IL 60611

James Janega, manager
Trib Nation
435 N Michigan Ave
Chicago, IL 60611

About Jenny Wittman

Jenny Wittman is senior editor and features writer for Cision Blog and oversees the daily media updates on the site. She is also senior media researcher at Cision and joined the company in March 2008. She likes being outdoors, going to concerts, traveling and exploring art galleries. She adores all animals and has a fascination for the cosmos. Find her on Twitter @jennywittman.

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