Survey: What journalists really want from sources

A new study found that most reporters want sources to help drive traffic to their stories using online channels.


Not too long ago, reporters didn’t need all that much help connecting with readers. The guaranteed audiences of newspapers, TV channels, and radio stations meant the message went from point A to point B.

Now, as readers are getting more and more content online—a Berkeley University study from September found that the Web has surpassed newspapers as a primary news source—there’s a little more competition for readers’ eyeballs, and journalists are looking for more help to get them on their articles.

A Bliss Integrated Communication survey of more than 100 journalists (PDF) found that most consider sources who reach out to their online networks to promote articles “highly valuable.” Other findings included that reporters want only those pitches that are relevant to what they cover, prefer final rather than preliminary statistics, and really like infographics.

The numbers

  • 69 percent of journalists prefer thoroughly vetted statistics rather than preliminary data.
  • 50 percent want just data, not suggestions for how to contextualize it.
  • 69 percent say that they want to receive information that the PR professional who sends it knows is relevant to that reporter.
  • 58 percent say it’s highly valuable for sources to share stories online.
  • 51 percent say video clips of sources are not valuable.
  • 79 percent say infographics are highly or moderately valuable.

The survey also found that a plurality of the reporters surveyed—31 percent—are responsible for generating content for three different media channels, mostly print, online, and for social media platforms. Some are responsible for content for as many as seven platforms.

Changing roles

“The fact is that it is a social world,” says Gerry Corbett, 2012 chairman and CEO of the Public Relations Society of America. “The PR person really is somewhat of a partner in helping get the word out about what this reporter has produced.”

Because reporters may not have online networks as broad as PR professionals do, it makes sense that they would look to a source to help market the product of an article and generate traffic. The Bliss study found that 30 percent of journalists say click-throughs are the most important measure of a story’s impact, and 21 percent put the most weight on reader comments.

That focus on clicks and engagement means what it means to be a reporter is changing.

“Everybody’s got the opportunity to be a brand,” Corbett says. “How reporters are going to grow and expand, really, is based on their brand. The Wall Street Journal is going to hire a reporter because they have a big following.”

Tripp Frohlichstein of MediaMasters Training says that, as journalists gain more and more responsibility to create content in different channels, PR support is going to be increasingly vital. But one thing he says won’t change is the trust factor.

“As a former TV assignment editor and producer, there were some PR people who felt more like used car salespeople, the ones with a bad reputation, and others I believed were actually trying to help me,” he says. “Of course I knew they had their own agenda too—but I was fine with a win/win.”

Reporters may rely on PR professionals for story promotion and so on, but only the ones they trust, Frohlichstein says. PR promotion of news stories can be problematic in other ways, too.

“What if the resulting story is not so positive?” he asks. “Now, the PR person wants as few people to see it and doesn’t tweet it.”

Or worse yet, what if the PR pro tweets negatively about the story? That could kill a relationship, Frohlichstein says.

Other takeaways

Based on the findings regarding vetted data, video, and infographics, Frohlichstein says PR professionals should come away from this survey with one key lesson in mind: Know your audience.

“It is incumbent upon a good PR person to be able to figure out which reporter falls into which camp—and try to pitch accordingly,” he says. “With the advent of social media, more personalized pitches, aiming at what specific reporters or media outlets want from you, are the way to go.”

Just because most reporters don’t want guidance in terms of how to interpret facts and figures doesn’t mean none of them do, Frohlichstein says.

There is one takeaway that is pretty universal, according to Corbett. Reporters “don’t want fluff or BS,” he says.

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Topics: PR

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