25 Sep News Tips: PR Insights from a TV News Producer
News and PR pros are often entangled in a chess match where their actions can develop a relationship of either mutual benefit or mutual destruction. It all depends on how each approaches this give and take relationship.
Who better to provide perspective and news tips than someone from the media? To bridge the gap, I decided to interview a former colleague from my TV days, John Tierney, Multi-Platform Executive Producer at KGW-TV.
Meeting at a local coffee shop (a neutral location- who doesn’t love coffee?), I turned the tables and put the mic in front of John. Here are some excerpts from our interview:
Q. What is your perspective on public relations and the role it plays for news gathering and storytelling?
John: It’s kind of a love-hate relationship.
As a journalist, you see yourself as this person who can come in and look at an issue and break it down to its parts and then relay that story to the public with an air of impartiality. When you’re dealing with a PR pro, you know they have a client and a mission so there is an inherent friction between the pitch and knowing there are other perspectives and angles to consider.
I think if we all understood each other’s jobs better, we’d have a more fruitful relationship.
One of the biggest frustrations with PR pros who don’t understand how the news business works is that we’re not here just to repeat press releases. We’re here to be journalists and, to the best of our ability, objectively inform the public.
We as broadcasters and journalists also need to understand that PR people have a job to do and we need to be respectful of that as well.
Q. What makes a story newsworthy for you?
John: Stories need to be character driven. It needs to have a person and that person is not the CEO of a bank or company. A person is someone who is buying a house or a customer. We can get a pitch on the greatest topic ever but if we can’t show why that story is interesting or compelling and humanize it, the story will fall flat. You can gather and present all the facts and data in the world but if you can’t carry a story with a human being or a character that is central to the story, it’s not going to work.
For broadcasting – a story has to be visual. TV is a visual medium. Literally every single word has to have some type of picture to go with it.
Q. Worst pitch and why?
John: I probably get the worst pitch 10 times a day and it goes straight to my trash. The ones that are nameless, generic releases with no substance or news hook or it’s from a PR firm in New York that is trying to meet a client quota by sending it to every media outlet but the pitch doesn’t resonate with the local market.
Q. How do you prefer to be pitched story ideas? How does digital play in?
John: Email is the best method for pitching stories. I don’t mind if a PR person responds to a tweet with relevant information or a corresponding pitch, but I don’t want a cold pitch via Twitter.
Q. Is there an ideal time of day to contact a television station?
John: Never send a pitch after 2p.m. to a TV station because at that point, we’re under tight deadlines to get our day’s newscasts put together. The best times to pitch day-of stories are in the morning between 6:30-9a.m. or if it’s for the next day between 11a.m.-1p.m.
Q. Who is the best point of contact?
John: It totally depends on the story. If it’s a ribbon cutting event or something you’re pretty sure we’ll cover in some capacity, send it to the assignment desk. News reporters don’t want to be bothered with logistical details like where to park the live truck or what time to show up. That’s what the assignment desk is for. Also, don’t be afraid to follow up. We get so many emails and things can get hectic sometimes.
Q. How do you view written statements during a corporate crisis and do they work for broadcast news?
John: This happens all the time. We’ll use them if it’s all we have. I don’t know how the viewer perceives it but frankly, I think it’s a B.S. move that tries to control the situation too much and limits access to the media when we’re trying to inform the public. If you know we have the other side on-camera, you’re probably better to come on camera.
Q. What does the future look like for broadcasting?
John: We’re moving toward digital first in the sense that we’re going to be digital journalists who also happen to do broadcasting. That’s still a bit off since broadcasting is the behemoth in the newsroom, but it shifts more and more every day toward digital.
Q. What’s the best tip you can offer?
John: Make a strong effort to understand how our business operates and realize that every newsroom does not operate the same way. Take the time to meet with each news outlet to get to know them, introduce yourself and understand how they operate. We will all be better served if we have a mutual understanding of how each industry works. Don’t come with a pitch in hand. The best time to connect is when there’s nothing on the table and it’s purely to build rapport not sell something.
To ask your own questions of John, connect with him on Twitter (@jtierney6)