Journalists are pretty grumpy. There’s pressure from the bosses upstairs and the ad execs downstairs, a doctorate of words required daily, long hours, crap pay and an army of PR people trying to influence them on every subject.
There are also amazing press trips, power trips and inside tips – so don’t feel too sorry for them. Deep down, all they want is a byline on a brilliant story.
Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I try not to fall into the traps and to make life easy for journalists as much as I can. A good journalist-PR relationship is mutually beneficial and actually quite a precious thing. If you are planning to bypass a PR person and do it yourself, have you any idea what you’re getting yourself into? Whether you’re in the game or not, here are five things journalists hate:
1 “Can’t you just use the pictures from the website?”
No. For one thing, they are low resolution and I need high resolution images for print (that means 300dpi and at least 1MB). Also, if I’m asking you for a picture it means I’m going to run your story, so be grateful and be helpful.
2 “Can I see it before it goes to print?”
No. How dare you ask for copy approval? Unless you are paying for an advertorial or a straight advertisement, you don’t have any say on what I write. That’s censorship. You know my publication, you either trust me or you don’t, in which case don’t speak to me. If everyone got to OK a story before we printed it, it would be a big old book of ads.
Did you paint the Sistine Chapel? Did you take off Michael’s other glove? Then what you’re doing is highly unlikely to be iconic in any way. Journalists love words, they hate cliché, hyperbole and big fat lies. I have had clients insist on certain words, but a good relationship with them means they’ll trust me to write a release in a way that maximises its chance of getting printed.
4 “I pay your wages”
An ad exec once said this to me when I was a reporter. Luckily, the witty production assistant was nearby and quipped “well, you brought in £3000 last quarter so whose wage are you paying?” In an ideal world, advertising and editorial would be separate. They’re generally not and that makes sense when it comes to not placing an ad for a car garage next to the story about the fatal crash. But I really hated it when ad execs would insist I run a story because the company was an advertiser. Or worse, PRs would tell me to write a story from a certain angle because the client was an advertiser. Now I’m in PR, I find this a tricky one, as obviously my clients’ needs are my priority. Diplomacy helps.
5 “Did you get my press release?”
It makes me laugh that this still happens because it’s the one thing everyone agrees you don’t say. A friend of mine who’s pretty high up in a big PR firm once told me he overheard a new start saying those immortal words and dragged her in to a disciplinary. Journalists get hundreds, if not thousands, of press releases emailed to them every week. Some of them have the email subject header: “Press release”. As an editor, it was helpful to have PRs call and pitch a story I was actually familiar with because I had read the release. That way I could ask my questions and arrange a picture, knowing that the information would get to me on time because the PR was on the ball. Now I appreciate that timing and brevity are key – as well as charm!
That’s just 5. What did I miss?