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5 Universal Lessons Learned from Journalists over the Past 12 Months

As we mark one year since the start of the pan­dem­ic – and a very event­ful news year – we want­ed to take time to reflect on what has changed and what has remained the same when it comes to jour­nal­ism and media rela­tions. We reached out to some friends in the media – WCCO-TV anchor Frank Vas­cel­laro, Twin Cities Busi­ness Magazine’s Edi­tor-in-Chief Alli­son Kaplan and exec­u­tive strate­gist, cri­sis coach and host of REAL Talk with Roshi­ni on WCCO Radio, Roshi­ni Rajku­mar to ask them about their expe­ri­ences over the last year. In our dis­cus­sions, we found five com­mon themes that align with what we’ve also expe­ri­enced work­ing close­ly with jour­nal­ists over the last 12 months – and that can be applied to fields beyond jour­nal­ism and media relations:

Read the room

  • This is some­thing we’ve known all along, but it became more impor­tant than ever in 2020 and now in 2021 to “read the room” and decide when is the right time to pitch a sto­ry (or make any pub­lic announce­ment). With the con­tin­u­ous­ly break­ing news of the pan­dem­ic, the elec­tion and insur­rec­tion and the social unrest that fol­lowed the killing of George Floyd, news­room and staff were stretched thin with all hands on deck. A pitch regard­ing an event a month down the road or new prod­uct would not only be ignored but could be seen as insen­si­tive dur­ing break­ing news cycles. Read­ing the room also means know­ing the land­scape and who you are pitch­ing. As Alli­son Kaplan, Twin Cities Busi­ness Magazine’s edi­tor-in-chief says, “Pro­vide some con­text. Why does it mat­ter now? What’s hap­pen­ing next? Also know what we’ve already writ­ten on the top­ic.” Read the room = do your research.

Tell your best sto­ry and why it is important

  • How does a pitch (or idea or new prod­uct) go beyond your com­pa­ny or orga­ni­za­tion and impact the com­mu­ni­ty? In this tight news land­scape, it’s impor­tant to keep this in mind. WCCO-TV’s Frank Vas­cel­laro says, “Pitch­es that work the best are not self-serv­ing, but com­mu­ni­ty-serv­ing. You should pitch an idea that has a broad­er impact that affects the com­mu­ni­ty than a nar­row top­ic that only ben­e­fits the com­pa­ny. How does your com­pa­ny or client help peo­ple? We are look­ing for inno­va­tions and solu­tions that help peo­ple and the com­mu­ni­ty in gen­er­al.” WCCO Radio’s Roshi­ni Rajku­mar agrees: “The best PR pro­fes­sion­als pitch specif­i­cal­ly. From my past life in TV news as a reporter, to my cur­rent work as a talk show host and com­men­ta­tor for oth­er out­lets, the best PR pitch­es are the ones that know my style, under­stand how I cov­er things on my show, and don’t send blan­ket press releases.”

Make it easy as pos­si­ble for everyone

  • Every­one is stretched thin more than ever so pro­vid­ing all the infor­ma­tion a jour­nal­ist would need to know and use for a sto­ry is cru­cial. “We need pho­tos with every sto­ry we post, so hav­ing assets avail­able can expe­dite the process,” Kaplan says. “It may seem small, but it’s vital in our visu­al world today.” Mak­ing things as easy as pos­si­ble for the reporter/producer to do their job will help get your sto­ry covered.

Rela­tion­ships are key

  • Even in this new vir­tu­al world we are liv­ing in, it is still impor­tant to devel­op rela­tion­ships with media (and your co-work­ers, cus­tomers, etc.). Be prompt, kind and help­ful. “Devel­op­ing rela­tion­ships with media is very impor­tant,” Vas­cel­laro says. “We are more apt to do a sto­ry when it comes from a PR pro­fes­sion­al we have worked with, respect and trust that it is a news­wor­thy sto­ry idea rather than a pro­mo­tion­al pitch.”

In this 24–7‑365 world, we’re all human

  • More than ever, the news cycle is mov­ing fast and furi­ous. “Social media has real­ly changed tra­di­tion­al jour­nal­ism,” Rajku­mar notes. “The seem­ing­ly 24–7‑365 nature of things means there’s not enough time for news gath­er­ing, dis­cern­ment before pub­li­ca­tion or broad­cast and reflec­tion.” Remem­ber there are human beings behind the emails and social media, in front of and behind the cam­eras (and in front of and behind all those webi­na­rs we’ve been watch­ing late­ly). So, while it’s impor­tant to do our best work, know that there is so much more hap­pen­ing behind the scenes and we need to be kind to one another.

The world is a dif­fer­ent place than it was a year ago in so many ways. As chal­leng­ing as this past year has been, it taught us a lot about how we work, how we inter­act and who we are as peo­ple. Hope­ful­ly we can all take away pieces that will make us bet­ter pro­fes­sion­als – and peo­ple – mov­ing for­ward. As we take time to pause and reflect on the past year, what lessons have you learned that you plan to car­ry with you in 2021 and beyond?


Shel­li Lis­sick and Megan Ander­son from our team also con­tributed to this post.

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