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Media Relations: A Journalist’s Perspective

boston_sports_teamsLast semester, I interviewed Boston Globe sports reporter Amalie Benjamin. As an avid sports fan, I was eager to hear about the ins and outs of sports writing and media relations. Amalie spent many years covering baseball and the Red Sox. This season she traded in her sunny days at Fenway Park for chilly plastic seats at TD Garden.  While Amalie welcomed the opportunity to cover the Boston Bruins, she dreaded the team’s heavy travel schedule to Canada and cities across the country.  This change took a bit of adjusting, not only to the long distance traveling, but also to the media policies. The National Hockey League (NHL) and Major League Baseball (MLB) enforce different media policies that players, coaches and journalists must follow. For instance, the NHL does not permit any media access to players and coaches before games. This rules changes Amalie’s routine and forces her to develop a story based off of less information. Yet, Amalie looks past the inconvenience and focuses on “doing it right” so she can “say I really did my job well today.”  Plus, the less interviews, the less she has to transcribe, something she notes as “the worst thing [she] ha[s] to do, but it’s a necessary evil.”

The team of public relations professionals from the sports teams she covers always made sure she has every statistic, interview and resource she needs to write her story. Occasionally, during a breaking news story or crisis, the sports organization’s PR department tries to protect the team or certain players at all costs. This makes Amalie’s job a lot harder. Fortunately, Amalie understands the hesitation from an internal point of view and still appreciates the assistance of media relations professionals.

First and foremost, Amalie became a journalist because writing has always been her passion. She loves laying out all of the puzzle pieces and putting them together to form a complete picture for people to admire and discuss. “I got into the business to tell stories…that’s important to me,” says Benjamin. All she wants to do is write about the truth and “interesting things that [she] hope[s] people will respond to.” And although public relations practitioners can steer her in the wrong direction at times, everyday she relies on their coordinated interviews for vital information during training camp and the season. In the end, the struggle pays off because “the best thing in the world is finding a story and feeling like you go it right” says Benjamin. “It’s pitch perfect.”

Overcome Your Writing Slump

It’s about that time of year again: the semester is underway and you are handed the topic for your first essay.  After four months of summer, you sit down to write and find nothing but a blank Microsoft Word document staring back at you. The thoughts just aren’t flowing.  Students and professionals alike often find themselves in this situation. But how do you find your way out of the slump? Some point to going outside, exercising, and/or eating, but I have found the following to be most effective:

Read. Reading is one of the best ways to get back into the groove of writing.  Find some of your old essays or blog posts and read through them.  Reading through your own work will help your brain remember your own writing style, and will help to get your mind back into the groove of concocting that killer thesis you know you are capable of.

Research. Whether it is the topic for your assignment, or just a topic that interests you, explore it.  Though seemingly counterproductive, researching your interests will open up your mind to absorb different facts and writing styles. Researching information will also help your mind to think about things and form opinions, a key component to writing a killer piece.

Talk it out.  If the words just don’t look right on paper, don’t write them down.  Find a friend, roommate or neighbor and talk to them about your thoughts on the assignment. Bouncing ideas off another person, and engaging in their responses, will stimulate your brain into creating stronger opinions.  This just might help bring your mind back around to the academic way of thinking.

Whether you are a student or a PR professional, writing is an important part of your career, so it is imperative that you rise above.  But every writer knows that your thoughts on assignments can become stale.  So the best advice is, if you can, walk away.  Take a break from the assignment and focus on something else for a while.  Once you walk back to that Microsoft Word document, you will be able to get right back into that comfortable groove you can’t believe you ever fell out of.

5 Ways to Keep Your Blog On Track

Starting a blog isn’t hard at all, however, keeping it going can be difficult.  It’s so easy to let a few days go by, and then a few more, before getting back to posting.  But it is important that you train yourself to write regularly! The most important way to keep your audience happy and to gain new traffic is to produce consistent relevant content.  This does not mean you have to post everyday; however aiming for 3-4 posts a week is generally a good rule of thumb.  Here are a few tips to stay on track:

1. Make an editorial calendar. I know it sounds kind of intimidating when phrased this way but an editorial calendar is a very useful tool to keep the content of your blog fresh and on topic. By planning ahead and writing down ideas for future posts with a corresponding due date, it won’t be as hard to produce content because you will already have a general idea of the subject you want to cover for a certain day.  An editorial calendar also sets deadlines for yourself so you are less likely to fall behind on posting.

2. Make a writing schedule. Set aside a block of time everyday or every other day that you can use to write your posts, or at the very least, hash out a first draft. The best way to write well is simply to start. If you get all of your thoughts out on paper it will be easier to clean it up and edit everything down to a coherent on-topic post.

3. Keep a notebook with you. By having a small notebook with you 24/7, you can jot down a blog post idea whenever it comes to you. Simply slip it into your backpack or purse–you may have a sudden thought in the grocery store or while in line at a coffee shop. I know that if I don’t write down my ideas immediately, I will forget them. Keeping note of your various thoughts and inspirations will give you more material to add to your editorial calendar later on.

4. Stay Current. Tying in relevant current events to your blog topic is always a good idea. What is going on right now that you can relate back to your subject matter? What current event clearly illustrates a concept you want to get across? Referencing current news items gives you another avenue to reach your readers and to drive a point home.

5. Research. Set aside a period of time–in addition to your writing blocks–to research new post ideas. See what is going on in your subject area and write down thoughts of what would be good to cover in the future.

If you follow any or all of these tips you will be well on your way to posting regularly, as well as gaining and maintaining an awesome following. Stay current, stay fresh, stay motivated. Your readers will thank you.

Media Relations from a Journalist’s Perspective — An Interview with Leslie Friday

For a media relations class assignment, I interviewed Leslie Friday, BU Today and Bostonia magazine staff writer. Before she came to BU Today, she served as a journalist for several newspapers such as the Brookline TAB and the Tico Times, in Costa Rica. The interview contributed to several media relations tips that may concern our PR pros-to-be. Here are some of the things that she had to say during our interview.

author-leslie

What makes a good story?

  • Unusual and compelling topics
  • Timeliness
  • Relation to your audience
  • Applicable to broader contexts

Which part of working with PR practitioners makes you feel good?

  • When PR people pitch great story ideas
  •  “We sometimes enjoyed working with each other.”

Which part of working with PR practitioners annoys and frustrates you?

  • “When a crime/bad news happened, a PR person didn’t return my call/email, or simply provided useless response.”
  • PR people sometimes are uncooperative and even antagonistic.

Anything that a PR professional can do to make your life easier?

  • “Answer my questions thoroughly and as quickly as possible, in the first time.”
  • Be honest.
  • “When anything comes up, please let me know. I can write a story about it and help people know. Let’s help each other out.”
  • “Follow what you promised.”

What makes a good pitch?

  • Subject line should “Have a story idea and don’t get too wordy.”
  • Be concise and show the most interesting part of the story in the beginning.
  • Interesting/new/unique, which “hooks me, makes me want to know more.”
  • Timeliness is important, yet again.
  • Pitch to the right person: research about the journalist, know his/her preferences.
  • “When pitching to mainstream media like the Boston Globe, it’s usually more difficult to get attention, so you must have a strong story and make it unique and more polished.”
  • “Keep pitching. You need persistence.”

Any advice for writing a valuable news release?

  • Include the most important information in the first paragraph— the five W’s and one H. Remember to tell the journalist why it is important.
  • Be concise.
  • “Read several times before you send it. Don’t repeat.”
  • Include contact info and different ways to get in touch.
  • Include a boilerplate at the bottom — with information about the company.

What qualities should a PR pro have?

  • PR is people relations. You should know how to work with people.
  • Have good event planning skills.
  • Communication skills: have everything well written in advance and strong verbal skills.