10 things I learned about journalists after spending hours with them

10 things I learned about journalists after spending hours with them

A few months ago, as part of doing a ton of research, I had the pleasure of talking to a number of journalists. Primarily covering the finance industry (or specific institutions), they had seen the best of the industry and the worst. They were seasoned, smart, opinionated, and very personable.  

Other than hearing their insights for my research, I learned a lot about the people behind the stories and about their experiences, thoughts on relationship-building, and their views on our professions.

Here are the top 10 things I learned after spending hours with journalists.

1. They use the word “spin” a lot. Journos looooooooooove this term when it comes to public relations. They’re critical, but have a level of acceptance of it. PR pros would disagree, but journalists see “spin” in a lot of company announcements, quotes and spokespeople’s responses. 

2. Journalists want a good relationship with companies they cover. The last thing they want is to be treated like any other journalist on a distribution list, or even worse, have a one-sided relationship. The ideal media relationship is professional, mutually-beneficial, helpful and respectful. And some of the journalists I talked to are even open to grabbing drinks!

3. Reporters still see terrible pitches. With all the attention on this topic already, it still surprises me that pitches are not tailored appropriately. It was the number one complaint!

4. They’re very attentive. Journalists keep their eyes and ears open for elements to use in stories. They’re always working. A PR professional needs to be aware of this and can either fear it—or use it strategically.

5. Journalists know when their time is being wasted. With the current state of journalism, reporters don’t have a lot of time to spare. Off the record conversations are helpful in some cases, but for the most part, journalists need substance and facts for their stories. They prefer information on background or direct quotes to supplement their work.

6. Reporters are smarter and more critical than they used to be. For example, in 2009, once the financial crisis continued to make headlines, journalists had a difficult time explaining complex financial terms and acronyms that usually rolled off bankers’ tongues. Today, that is not the case. Journalists are more informed than they were and thus, more critical. They can sense when “spin” might be more than just that. The same is true for most industries and events.

7. They won’t hesitate to call you out. In my conversations, we talked about inaccurate reporting, errors that PR pros make and what companies are doing wrong. It was totally candid on their part. Some won’t hesitate to put it on Twitter.

8. They’re iffy about sponsored content. It’s a hot topic in the industry; whether it will be profitable or if it’s even sustainable. But journalists are more concerned about what it will do to the credibility of their outlets. 

9. They love what they do. The journalists I met were passionate about what they do and their beats. They had been through the best and the worst and had really intelligent insight about the topics we were discussing. It was clear to me that they really love what they do every day. 

10. Journalists think companies and their executives need better advisors. Out of all of the things I learned about journos, this is the one that I can agree with wholeheartedly. They believe that companies need advisors to lead executives to making better company decisions. And here’s the kicker: they think PR pros are fully equipped to do the advising. I couldn’t agree more. 

Julia Sahin is a recent graduate from the Master’s program in Public Relations and Corporate Communications at NYU. She is a communications freelancer and a monthly contributor to Muck Rack. She plans on doing big things. 

Photo: Hands on keyboard via Shutterstock

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