Public Relations Tactics

Beyond the Byline: How Reporters Engage Readers

September 1, 2014

In the Convergence Era, a journalist’s job doesn’t end once a story is filed by a deadline. Along with the text, there need to be updates with videos and interviews. Then, that story must be promoted on an arsenal of social platforms. 

If those social media messages are going to gain traction in a competitive news market, then they need to be written effectively, sent out during peak traffic times and spark dialogue with consumers. Interestingly, those duties sound a lot like what PR professionals do on a daily basis.

For the newspaper industry, which is still wrestling with the concept of paywalls, the trend of the editorial side overtly using PR tactics makes sense.

Both the Los Angeles Times and San Diego Union-Tribune, newspapers with metered use, employ engagement editors. These are people who provide social media training for the newsroom, and interact with readers as well as create content — a little bit of public relations, a little bit of journalism.

Engagement editors make the newsroom more PR savvy, a characteristic Jeff Edelstein, a columnist for The Trentonian, feels today’s journalists must possess.

“Journalists today, no matter how old they are, must understand how truly important social media, as part of public relations, is to their job,” said Edelstein.

Convergence, meet engagement.

Be a person, not a salesperson

Andrea Berkman Donlon, an expert on personal brand development and founder of The Constant Professional, says that journalists, especially those from publications with a paywall, must be careful with their social media presence. Tweets and posts composed only of links to paid content should be avoided.

“Consumers are likely to lash out at these writers for reaching out and engaging them via social media and then forcing them to pay for content,” said Berkman Donlon. “That’s being viewed as ‘bait and switch.’”

Edelstein sees journalists making mistakes by promoting their work on social media in a robotic manner hoping it catches fire. He feels consumers will be turned off by a steady diet of tweets just with a slug and a link.

“About 70 percent of my Facebook posts are about me, my life, everyday things, like a picture of the glass of bourbon I’m about to drink,” he said. “That gets people interested — makes them feel like they know me. From there, I hope they look at the other 30 percent, which are my stories.”

Be the boss 

Although Trentonian management has never given Edelstein any social media strategies or expressed how many page hits should be reached, he contends that monitoring analytics should be essential habits for journalists. Edelstein regularly tracks his page views and bounce rate — just like a PR rep would for a client.

He thinks that there is a correlation between the personal flair of his social media feeds and the amount of hits, comments and retweets that he receives. Besides offering more views for the newspaper, social media devotees also provide news tips.

Tom Krasovic, a sports reporter for the Union-Tribune, has likewise never received a mandate from management about promoting his work through social media. However, the attitude in his newsroom is that everyone should be an active participant in social media. Since his readers have insatiable appetites for breaking sports news, Krasovic tweets as much as his fingertips allow during games and practices.

“Sports reporters should make their Twitter feed a team’s definitive source of immediate information,” said Krasovic.

Jason Cohen, senior editor at Texas Monthly magazine, has a firsthand perspective of the blurring lines between journalists and PR professionals. Besides writing and editing, Cohen handles some of the magazine’s social media responsibilities so content “is more a journalistic product than a marketing product.”

He recommends for management to tread lightly when it comes to giving social media direction.

“Nobody wants to be told what to do and that would happen if management said what needs to be done on social media,” said Cohen. “Journalists should have their own voice, tweet about topics and become a brand regarding that topic.”

What Cohen doesn’t do is use social media for blatant crowdsourcing by posing questions since that’s “PR that feels like PR.” Instead, he scours social media looking for “real conversations” people are having about a topic that he is writing about. That public information provides Cohen with a prized resource — authentic conversation that hasn’t been altered by a reporter’s notepad.

Once the story is completed, Cohen shares the link with those who were quoted in the piece, creating a subtle pipeline of distribution.

Be chatty

On a weekly basis, Krasovic and his fellow sports writers conduct online chats hosted on the Union-Tribune’s site. In a shotgun manner, for about 45 minutes the paper directs questions regarding the Chargers or Padres toward the writers. According to Krasovic, management is impressed with the metrics that these chats generate and the accompanying social media conversations.

“Building a brand can be done with chats or on Twitter or Facebook — all ways to connect with the readers,” said Krasovic.

“You’ll see more reporter chats because it’s a logical way to expand the brand. It also smartens up reporters, you find out what people are thinking about and [you] can look at stories from different perspectives.”

Play favorites

Edelstein recommends that journalists limit those they follow on Twitter to the “movers and shakers” in the area.

“Journalists should be the ones with the following,” he said. “By not following a lot of people, they look like the person that needs to be followed instead of just someone willing to connect with anybody.”

Aaron J. Moore, Ph.D.
PRSA member Aaron J. Moore, Ph.D., is an associate professor of public relations at Rider University. His primary research topic is sports media relations. Moore is a member of the United States Basketball Writers Association. You may reach him via email at amoore@rider.edu or on Twitter: @pubrelationprof.

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