May 23, 2013Name: Dale Buss Title: Independent Journalist Media Outlet: Forbes, Chief Executive, Brandchannel.com, Wall Street Journal, Townhall Magazine and many more Twitter Handle: @DaleDBuss 1. Describe your typical workday in 140 characters or less. Pore through news. Handle increasing 24/7 blogging responsibilities. Then turn to find time for longer-term projects e.g. mag stories, books. 2. What's the best pitch you've ever received? I can't single out one of the best, but I can talk about a cavalcade of awful ones, which had one or more of these characteristics: 1) Totally clueless about what I do, specifically and/or about how freelancers or even journalists work; 2) Presumption that journalists want to or are able to work on precisely what the pitch-er happens to be proposing that day; 3) Responding to a query by offering an executive for an interview only to come back later and say he/she's not available. In short, the most effective PR folks forge a relationship with me which ends up paying off both ways. 3. The greatest words of wisdom an editor ever gave you? "More, better, faster, Buss!" -- Doug Sease, WSJ bureau chief in Detroit, 1981-1983; and another: "Boomer [his nickname for me], I want you to go out and capture the mood of the people!" -- Paul "Biff" Dysart, editor, Reedsburg (Wis.) Times Press and renowned community-newspaper editor in Iowa (R.I.P.) 4. If there was one thing you could tell every PR practitioner, what would it be? In addition to (2) above, I would urge them to learn that (most, traditional) journalists and bloggers don't wake up every day wondering how we can best promote an agency's agenda or client. Instead, we're totally focused on how to make ourselves and our clients look smart. That's how it has to be, of course. And if they can find ways to understand and, yes, exploit that truth, we're going to have a mutually beneficial relationship. 5. What's your craziest or most interesting newsroom story? I'll never forget sitting in the newsroom of the Milwaukee Journal (now the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel) in 1990, at a meeting where top editors were considering our "people of the decade" section, and hearing one of my colleagues assert, in all seriousness, that Ronald Reagan didn't deserve to be on the list. Of the many, many instances I've encountered of newsroom bias and agenda-setting before and since, this was the most instructive to me. I never quite looked at "newsroom objectivity" the same again.
April 18, 2013Pitching a story or oped successfully takes a lot of hard work. In fact, it can be so difficult that many people – and even PR practitioners – simply give up. But if you pitch locally, your job suddenly becomes easier. For example, let’s say you wanted to pitch a story about the mayor of a suburban town outside Philadelphia. If you tried pitching the Miami Herald, you’d probably strike out. You’d have a much better success rate if you targeted the Philadelphia Inquirer or a local paper because of the geographic connection. So going local makes it easy to get fast hits. But what if you want to make a bigger splash? You can also apply this technique in reverse. There’s often a way to broaden the appeal of even the most local stories. For example, let’s say the suburban mayor’s solution to his town’s unemployment crisis contains lessons for how other towns could solve their unemployment problems, as well. Voila. With a few small tweaks, we have national appeal. To make our pitch even more attention-grabbing, we could plug in unemployment data for whatever state we’re pitching. If we pitch the Detroit Free Press, for example, we could call attention to Michigan statistics showing Detroit has a major unemployment problem – and our small-town mayor is offering a solution.
March 28, 2013Name: Chelsea Glenn Fuller Title: Reporter/Copy Editor Media Outlet: The Dominion Post Twitter Handle: Fulloffaith22 Personal Blog: Journalist Extraordinaire 1) Describe your typical workday in 140 characters or less. Reporting days: Receive daily assignments, go do the interviews, come back and write. Editing days: Edit news copy, design, layout and proof pages. 2) What's the best pitch you've ever received? I would have to say the best pitch/scoop I've received thus far was from an elderly lady who bombarded my office with calls that my superiors brushed off. When I finally talked to her, she informed me that she lived in a large apartment complex for low income seniors. Many residents at the complex received free lunch from a local state funded senior center. For most of the residents the lunch was their only hot meal of the day, and the number of lunches served was cut significantly without any explanation from the center or the apartment complex. That one scoop turned into seven top strip front page stories that exposed the agency's mishandling of the meal program. Words of wisdom: Don't ever totally disregard a pitch/scoop without listening to it first because you never know where your next big story will come from. 3) What are the greatest words of wisdom an editor ever gave you? My first editor told me that I should never assume that my readers already know what I am writing about... even the simplest things that appear self-explanatory. She always reminded me that it is not just my job, but my responsibility to be thorough and to produce accurate content that people can trust. After making a classic junior reporter mistake (I failed to double check the spelling of a source's name), she told me that taking extra time to double check sources, spelling and grammar are simple things that can separate good reporters from great reporters. There hasn't been a single day in my career that I haven't remembered those words. 4) If there was one thing you could tell every PR practitioner, what would it be? Don't underestimate the value of creating strong ties with reporters. Many PR professionals just send blanket releases to media outlets for the sake of convenience. But you would be surprised at the difference sending a personalized release can make. Good, relationships with reporters can be the difference between getting coverage for your client and having your release sent to the bottom of the stack.
March 20, 2013Just about everyone is familiar with the advice, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” It's true: A product’s packaging isn’t always a fair representation of what’s actually inside. In general, making an informed decision requires more than a cursory review of the options. In the media world, however, that quick blurb – “the cover” – might be the only thing an editor looks at when deciding what to publish. Editors at the major daily newspapers – and large online publications – receive thousands of pitches every week. Somehow they must choose a few each day. When pitching an editor, it’s best to start with a query – an enticing synopsis of your event, argument or story. A query is essentially your sales pitch, whether you’re promoting an oped, article idea, or media event. The query lays our why an editor (or reporter) should accept your submission for publication, cover your event, or write on your issue. It's therefore critically important for the query to be polished and engaging. Here are a couple of tips to make sure your query stands out: 1. Keep it quick. Your query shouldn't be more than a couple hundred words. Remember, you only need to convey the main point of the piece. 2. Make every word count. With so few words to work with, each one should pack a punch. Leave out unnecessary clauses or explanations and stick to the bold or controversial points that will grab an editor's attention.
March 12, 2013The competition to place an op-ed at a top newspaper is brutal. Major papers like The New York Times and Wall Street Journal receive thousands of opinion submissions every week. But they run only one or two outside submissions per day. Some days, their regular columnists fill the entire page. When sifting through that torrent of op-eds, editors tend to deploy a couple handy, commonsense heuristics. One of them is the obvious but important question: "Is this piece tied to something newsworthy?" You might have composed an op-ed of astonishing eloquence and insight. But if your piece is about a story that transpired a year -- or even a month -- ago, it probably isn't placing. That means your op-ed needs to establish a news hook within the first couple sentences. The best way to give yourself a bona fide chance of getting serious consideration is to craft a timely opening paragraph. Here are four rules to follow: 1) The news hook should be an event from the past few days. Your hook should be of sufficient relevance that it could be covered on the front page of whatever paper you're pitching. Last week, hooks of national relevance would include the sequestration and new gun control legislation. 2) Stay descriptive. Remember, at this point in the piece the editor's chief concern isn't its angle -- it's its relevance. You can save the explicit opinion for later on. In your introductory paragraph you want to provide the basic facts and create some context before laying out your thesis. 3) Keep it short and punchy. The first paragraph should be no longer than three sentences. Don't weigh it down with excess information. You should aim to include only the details that matter.