Wick Communications

Hey, they like us!

In Public relations on January 6, 2011 at 5:05 pm

Thursday I had the opportunity to participate in a panel along with other media professionals at our local county offices. County spokesman Marshall Wilson, himself a former big-city reporter, gathered reporters and editors and a few dozen government employees, nonprofit PR types and other community members interested in getting their stuff in the paper, primarily so the two tribes could meet.

What a good idea … and one you might think of replicating in your community.

San Mateo County, Calif., is a pretty big place. At last count, 718,989 people live in the county. (By the way, you can find out stuff like that about your community here.) There are probably a dozen daily or weekly newspapers and countless news blogs in the county, all clamoring for attention. There is no telling how many people want their news in our papers. We communicate regularly via e-mail and social media, but it’s amazing how rarely we get in the same room with our sources.

Here’s the takeaway, for me anyway: Our sources appreciate the job we do, they understand it’s difficult, and they want to help.

I know, right. Who knew?

Seriously, it was a great exchange. Some highlights:

  • Someone in the audience asked how best to explain a really complicated story, one that she has been working on for years, given our tough deadlines and the fact that we need to get things into print quickly. I told her that I understood some implied pain. I imagine that someone like that who has toiled diligently on something complicated would be disappointed in the resulting 12-inch news story that is sure to miss some nuance and detail. I suggested she remember what the general readership needs to know and not so much what she would like to tell those readers.
  • The Sheriff’s spokesman congratulated one reporter for getting right a complicated story on the amount of overtime paid to deputies – and exposing that Sheriff’s officials themselves didn’t even know the answers internally. He said they marvel that we can get a paper out regularly.
  • The same spokesman asked whether it was a breach in protocol to send information to specific reporters rather than an editor. I told him that we are happy to have the information sent to multiple people and suggested that one problem we sometimes have with law enforcement folks is a culture clash – and that clash is reflected in his question. The Sheriff’s Office is a hierarchical organization; that’s less true of newsrooms. Therefore, the Sheriff’s Office wants things to go through channels and we just want the information.
  • We tried to convey to “them” that we like stories about people. Press releases about grants or big-money programs and the like may be ignored unless the writer ties these programs to honest-to-goodness people in our communities. We asked them to help us understand how their programs affect our readers.

It was 90 minutes well spent. We traded business cards and got to know one another. I’m sure we’ll all benefit from the exchange. Perhaps its something you would want to organize at your newspaper.

Clay

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