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5 Reasons Why Reporters Hated Your News Release

So you spent all that time crafting the perfect news release and—full of confidence and high hopes of massive news coverage and a satisfied client—you sent out your releases.

And zippo.  Something went wrong.  Systems failed.  The news trolls (like me) somehow missed the chance to make you happy.

But why? Why would a reporter read a solidly written news release with a beefy story to back it up and not jump at the chance to do a story--a minute and a half on the local news or a few inches of copy in the local paper?

Here are five common reasons why:

1.  You Didn’t Make Me Feel Special

We just got off on the wrong foot, that’s all.  I’m an overworked reporter and my feelings are very, very easily hurt.  I was interested when I saw that you’d sent me a possible story (you thought of me!) and then, quickly, I realized you hadn’t truly thought of me at all.  I was just a number to you.

The “Dear Mark” on your cover letter proceeds to suggest that a story I might do—and remember, I’m a television reporter—would be of interest to my “readers.”  My what? I don’t have readers.  This isn’t a personal letter—it’s a mass mailing.  My feelings just got hurt and for better or worse, you’ve started to lose my interest.  Now I’m not looking for a way to do the story, I’m thinking of how many other reporters have the same release in their hands.  It feels far less special.  It feels like wire copy to me now.

Recently, I got an email early on a weekday, tipping me to a potential story.  It was fantastic, because I was about to walk into the morning editorial meeting, where reporters are called upon to have story ideas.  I hate not having story ideas.  So your email was perfectly timed.  I felt good.  I felt good about you thinking of me.  And I was ready to pitch your story.

Then I got into the meeting and another reporter pitched your story.  In fact, everybody had gotten your email.  I didn’t feel so good about you after that.  And for that matter, I was even tempted to bust on the story when the other reporter brought it up.  Instead of making me feel special, you made me feel ordinary and I decided to work against your story, instead of for it.  Yeah, she's been shopping that thing around to everybody...

2.  I Was Ready, but You Weren’t

Okay, so you got me.  I read the release and I thought it would make a good story.  And my producers (or editors, at a paper) agreed with me.  If I’m a television reporter, I may even have been assigned to a newscast immediately—they wrote your story on the newsroom's assignments board in dry erase marker, which is as good as it gets! Pending breaking news, you’re a lock!

And so I called you.  I said we wanted to get interviews and shoot some video and do a live report at noon—basically, we needed to go directly from the television station to you, so that we could have a story ready to air in less than three hours.

And you said “today?

Yes.  Today.  In fact, now.  In broadcast and print, when that release goes out, you better be ready to jump.  If you mention an executive who has news, he’d better be ready to do interviews immediately.  If you mention a new cattle-combing machine, it’d better be in town, up and running, and ready for cameras.

If you say, “let me make some calls,” I have to go to the producer of the noon newscast and throw cold water on my own story.  “Hey, looks like it’s not as much of a go as I thought.  Sorry.  This might not happen for noon after all.”

Now the noon newscast producer doesn’t like me anymore, and the executive producer wants to know why the story didn’t make the show.  When something falls through, news producers don’t think, “okay, cool, we’ll do it tomorrow.”  They think, “okay, it’s dead.  What else do we have?

3.  You Buried the Lead

Look.  I’m in a newsroom that’s about three-quarters the size it was just two years ago.  Some of my friends lost their jobs and nobody’s been hired and I have to work a lot harder than I used to.  I’m not quite as happy with my job as I used to be, and I’m a bit cranky about that.  Short tempered.  Irritable.  I’m also forced to work fast and I don’t have a lot of time to chat or read.

So your news release—the one your client finally approved—well, it was just too long and too boring for me.  It had all the stuff the client wanted in there, all that corporate stuff, but I just read the first two paragraphs and didn’t see a story.  It didn't jump off the page and scream why are you sitting there?  You're missing a great story!

There was all this stuff at the top about the company and how it was responding to global this and that and how a green initiative something or other resulted in… I don’t know.  I couldn’t figure out what the story was.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a story in there.  But it didn’t read as a story the way I report stories.  It read like a news release.

Put yourself in my shoes.  Would you go on the news at six o’clock and have the first thing out of your mouth be the first line in your news release?  Would it make any sense at all?  Or would it sound like corporate blather?  If the top of your news release reads corporate, and not NEWS, you stand an excellent chance of losing me.  Because I’m just too damn overworked, tired, and coffee-deprived to do the work for you, sifting down to the fifth paragraph and then thinking of how to translate what you wrote into the language I use to tell stories.  So I move on.

4.  It’s Like… You Don’t Get Me

I read the release and I liked it.  I saw a story in there.  I thought it could even be a good story.  I told my bosses and they agreed with me.  I probably told them all about your story in my language, describing how I’d make it into a kickass television story (or newspaper story).

So I called you.  And we weren’t getting each other.  It was trouble from the start.  You see, as a television reporter I’m always thinking about who I’m going to interview and what I’m going to show.  If I can't think of a way to tell that story with images, I'm probably going to think that's a story that's never getting onto the air at my television station.

Maybe it's better as a newspaper story.  But newspapers like pictures (and, increasingly, video), too.

At any rate, I called you and said I wanted to do the story and you suggested that I interview your company’s PR guy in the company conference room at headquarters.

That sounded horrible to me and I almost gave up right there.  But I said, well, the story’s about your new aircraft baggage loading device that you say will cut airline costs.  So let’s meet at the baggage area, you show me the device in operation, we’ll get some great video and interview a few of the crew members who will be working on the machine—baggage handlers (you know, regular people, not spokespeople).

And you freaked.  Baggage area?  That’s going to be tough, you know, with regulations and stuff.  And we’d really rather you didn’t speak with any employees.

And my story started drying up before my eyes.  Because a PR guy in a fancy conference room—even with your company’s super nifty logo on the wall in chrome—bores me and gets me in trouble with my boss.

Watch my newscast and see who we interview.  Do you see a lot of conference room talking heads?  If you don't, then you know a story with spokespeople and handout pictures (no matter how nice your press kit is) just won't be cutting it.

Don’t you get me at all?

5.  My Day Changed…and You Got All Offended

So we agreed we had a good story here and I called and you were happy and your client was happy and we both decided to do the interviews with regular people (I know you prepped them—and that’s cool with me as long as they don’t sound like they’re reading lines) and we were going to get a look inside the factory with some great video opportunities.  And then—to top it off—you said the magic words:  “and we’re only giving this to you.”


And then an elementary school caught on fire.  That dry erase board with all the cool stories listed?  They grab the eraser sometimes when schools catch fire, or planes miss runways, or mayors turn up in handcuffs.  Suddenly everybody in the newsroom’s working the same story.

And our cool factory exclusive gets scrubbed.

I call—really sorry, but we’ve got breaking news… and I’m hoping we can maybe do the story later in the week.  (Odds are we’ll be doing a full day of follow-up coverage on the school fire tomorrow)

And you are irritated.  You’ve made calls, put things in motion, you know?  The company’s switching things up to accommodate the news crew and they roped off a parking place for our live truck and they've moved fast to give them everything a news crew could ask for (even bottled water, for heaven’s sake!) and now… you feel like you’re going to look bad.

So you say fine and hang up and you want to forget you ever pitched me the story.

But here’s the thing.  I totally still like the story.  I even feel bad and will argue with my bosses that we need to do the story.

But you took the hit with the client (don’t they know that reporters cancel all the time?) and you did damage control and pushed the story somewhere else.  But the TV story never happend, and nobody ever parked the big shiny TV truck outside the factory, which would've made everybody so happy.  But why?

I thought we had something special.

Comments (15) Trackbacks (1)
  1. Writing on the board was always my favorite part when Owen wasn’t there. However, I really wasn’t tall enough to ever reach Alex Arias. Hence, he never got assigned to anything on my board days.

  2. And don’t forget this one: an e-mail that says “see attached press release” and the press release is in some document format that your computer can’t open and/or read! And the idiots that sent the press release didn’t bother to actually include the details of their Important News Story in the actual e-mail - in simple, easy-to-read, plain text.

  3. Well done Mark.

  4. #5 sounds awfully like the reverse of #1. Perhaps both sides need to get over themselves?

  5. Ah, Mary, in a better world…! It may be in the genes that reporters just hate feeling like they’re being “handled.” And egos… in journalism? That could never happen!

  6. As a reporter, editor and sometime pr consultant, this was a good piece with good advice. Just one quibble — the part about sending to ONE person in a news operation. Good idea, not practical, specially when time is of the essence. Spam filters/vacations/I’mnotonthatbeatanymore/ and makes it iffy to send to one contact where it might end up in email ozone. Yeah, it’s a pain in the ass to realize you and everyone else in the newsroom got the release, but even as a reporter, I never took mass email personally EXCEPT when it was from a PR gal/guy who was a personal contact as well. (those people knew to send exclusively to me because i had them well trained — I gave thumbs up/down quickly so they could move on) I don’t need to feel “special” from a PR stranger. Otherwise, excellent tips.

  7. Thanks, Stephanie. Good point. And certainly a PR’s not going to be able to target a single reporter every time. It’s a great way to handle certain stories-and it builds relationships. What I think I had hoped to convey was the downside to crafting emails to reporters that read like “it’s just for you” when what they really are is general-mailing emails. I think there’s a risk of backfire at times.

  8. Many good points here. However as a former TV reporter and newsroom manager, I would hope that reporters had already made a call first before they pitched a press release story in the morning meeting. If they didn’t know what interviews and visuals would be available and have a pretty good idea how solid the story was and how fast it would turn, I sent them away to make the calls they should have made before pitching.

  9. Chris, thanks for reading and commenting. Much appreciated. And yep, I totally agree that doing your homework before pitching a story’s part of doing a reporter’s job. But here’s a funny thing about reporters and PRs. We don’t have the same hours. I’ve rarely found a PR at their phone before 9 a.m., even on days when they were selling a story. I’ve often shot off an email and waited with iPhone in hand during a meeting for a response on details… In such cases, I’ll pitch with the qualifications you mentioned.

  10. Great great post, great advice and so true. I would bet the majority of PR folks aren’t exactly ready to jump when they hit send on their releases! Hate to admit it, but I’m not always jump-ready!

  11. Snarky beyond belief, and clearly a little self-indulgent, as Mary hints to, but a great read nonetheless.

    As a former journo-turned-PR convert, I’ve got experience with both sides of the fence. Everything the author writes here is true. In the future, however, I challenge you to balance the unadulterated snarkiness with a bit more constructive advice to PR people. All your points were great, but by the end of the piece, the wittiness gets a little tiring.

    End of story: both journalists and PR pros want to be successful at their jobs, and we need to work together to figure out how to make it happen. As I said, I’ve worked for years as a journalist, and trust me, I know the mindset: many of them think they’re God’s gift to the earth.

    News flash (pun intended): they’re not.

    PR people need to respect them, but bow down to them? Cower in fear? …Hardly.

    Work with them to come to a mutual understanding? Sure. Be respectful of their time, deadlines, and mindset? Absolutely. Wouldn’t have it any other way.

    While this article is funny, journalists, please don’t take this too much to heart. Stay humble. Just remember, PR people are people too.

  12. Robert… guilty as charged-on all counts. I learned early on that journalism seems to attract individuals with a recessive gene for self-indulgence. And in broadcast, well, it can reach levels that chill the spines of mere mortals. (See: network television)

  13. Did you ever feed a picky child breakfast? They don’t just want toast. They want whole wheat toast, not too dark, cut off the edges, spread with real butter but not too much. Cut it in triangles, not squares and DON’T let it touch the scrambled eggs; by the way not too runny, not too hard. Some salt but I SAID no pepper. And you have to ask them nicely if they are ready to have breakfast (whenever they wake up), not when it’s breakfast time. If you don’t ask in just the right tone, you get a bag of attitude back if not stone silence. When they don’t eat the carefully prepared meal because they saw a new box of cookies and looked at you like Hitler kicking a kitten when you asked about it you’re just supposed to smile, calmly walk away and hope they eat the meal later on. When you offer to fix breakfast for a sibling, CHILD1 gets offended because the center of the universe has shifted slightly from them. All of this effort in the slight hope that the child will on occasion show you some slight affection.

  14. “See: network television” Ouch. As a long time veteran network correspondent, I am sooo hurt. Actually, Robert is right. The advice definnitely had a snarky tone to it. And you are very right about the fact that anyone who sends out a press release should absolutely be ready to deliver the goods when the phone rings. I think most PR people know this. But, all too often, their corporate clients have not a single clue. The proposed interview in the boardroom has a painfully familiar ring. On the other hand, just look at how many interviews we are seeing where the interviewee appears on Skype on some similar video phone. That’s really bad television. Worse than what used to occur in the early days of TV network news. Cheap. Amateurish and visually boring. The interviewee, interviewer and TV viewer all lose. They all might as well be on radio. Come to think of it, if all that is being done is sound bite journalism, radio might be a better vehicle. To conclude, too much of television news — especially local but increasingly network, too, simply contributes to the dumbing down of news coverage. Pretty soon, anchors and reporters may simply read the first paragraph of the press release. That would save a lot of time and money.

  15. What’s up, Problem Solver? When I was a TV news reporter, I spent hours on end driving around with ridiculous hair in a live truck covering “Meth Watch” or “Classrooms in Crisis” or “Winter Blast.” And oh, how I bitched and moaned about those dumb ‘ol PR people. “Why do they always point out that I’m shorter in person?! And the font in this release is so freaking tiny!” Now I look back and see how silly I looked—that I needed to check myself. Now I see that so many PR peeps are excellent writers, amazing photogs, energetic, fun, honest, organized and, best of all, they check their egos at the door. I think it’s hysterical how news folks spend so much time making helpful lists like, “Top Ten Tips for PR People” or “5 Reasons Why Reporters Hated Your News Release.” One second they complain that releases are too chummy, then they complain that releases are too nuts-and-boltsy. I agree with a ton of the points above-that’s why I left news after 13 years and started a PR agency. I wanted to give reporters exactly what they wanted. That’s still true—but I also daydream about giving many of them exactly what they need-a valuable kick in the shins. I love lamp.

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