While it may not seem like it at first glance, there's actually a lot of occupational crossover in the media industry.
In terms of job function, both reporters and public relations professionals do a lot of researching, writing and networking to share news about what's going on in their respective beats and clients' industries. Both sides closely follow key industry influencers and are often aware of trends long before they break.
The key difference, however, is the environment in which these activities happen. As someone who's been a member of several editorial staffs during her career, I have a fairly good idea of how the standard newsroom functions — and they're not necessarily the ever-hungry content mills today's media publications are made out to be.
Anything you pitch us, we have to pitch, too. Some publications give every writer total control over the content they produce, and they don't need prior approval before going ahead with an interesting story idea. This is not the case for many outlets, where regular pitch meetings and discussions with the editors occur to determine what's going to get covered. Reporters have to filter through the dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of pitches they receive each day (which I've written about on LinkedIn) and find the gems to present to their editors. While you may think your story is right for a publication, the writer may know that his or her editor won't bite — and it's rarely worth it to bring up what might be perceived as a "bad" story idea.
Remember that, depending on the type of outlet you're pitching, the editorial decisions may happen differently, or at least on a different timetable. Zach Burrus of SHIFT Communications wrote a great Muck Rack piece last month about pitching print versus broadcast outlets outlining some of the differences.
Our readers and stakeholders come first. As a PR rep, your job is to keep your clients happy by getting them media placements. A reporter's job, on the other hand, is to provide content that the publication's readers will love, which in turn drives the traffic that keeps advertisers happy. If you have a good relationship with a writer, he or she may be able to work something out and feature a particular client where it makes sense, but in general, our first priority is give our audience what they want. This being the case, we need to be selective about our coverage. It's not always possible to publish your client's story exactly as it's pitched, and publications may need to change the angle slightly to make it a fit.
We want to incorporate a wide variety of sources and experts into our coverage. Renowned publications like the New York Times and the Washington Post didn't earn their reputation by interviewing the same people on the same subjects. Media outlets need diversity in their content and sources to keep their stories fresh and relevant, so a reporter may reject your ideas if you keep pitching them one spokesperson and subject time and time again.
Our coverage strategy is far from static. Because news outlets exist to serve their readers, editorial needs are constantly changing to keep up with audience demands. Business News Daily, for instance, has eliminated a few different columns and story types over the years because they didn't resonate with readers. Conversely, we've added new types of stories, such as product reviews, after receiving feedback that readers were looking for them. Don't take it personally if a reporter turns down your pitch for that reason; adjust your strategy and keep trying. And don't be afraid to reach back out in the future: What we didn't want to cover today might be news tomorrow.
Photo: Stacks of newspapers via Shutterstock