Covering News in the Digital Era

I transitioned from print journalism to public relations almost two decades ago. My reporting and writing skills have been critical to my success. I also like to think that because I was a reporter, I know what reporters are looking for.

The digital era, though, has changed the rules somewhat.

I remember when I wrote a story about children’s beauty pageants. I received not one but two (!) letters to the editor about the coverage. I also received several phone calls. That was unusual. For the most part, I wrote the story, it was published and, maybe, a friend or a colleague would comment about it.

Today feedback is semi instantaneous. Not only do readers share stories via social media, but news organizations know which stories are being read because of page view reports.

Reporters also are connecting differently. When I started in the business, I worked the phone. It was glued to my ear as I interviewed sources and scheduled face-to-face interview. Today, reporters do much of their reporting by email (that’s not to say they aren’t still meeting with sources) and they can find out about breaking news and potential sources through social media, particularly Twitter.

At the College Media Conference recently held in Washington, D.C., every reporter I met had a Twitter handle, and all but a few are active on it.

“Twitter is a quick way to reach people and find stories,” said Bill Schackner, higher education reporter for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

To better engage with readers, newspapers are creating packages, both in print and online. Nick Anderson, the higher education reporter for the Washington Post, noted how a story on changes to the SAT included a quiz with SAT questions that readers could answer online – and many did.

Some publications also seek content from other sources to reuse on their site. Slate Magazine does this and its news editor Chad Lorenz said that PR practitioners should be aware of these publications and pitch stories to them.

The magazine also recognizes the importance of social media. “We use it to deliver content to new readers on their home turf,” said Chad Lorenz, news editor of Slate Magazine.

Not all readers are interested in the full story. “A share of my readers don’t even want the story,” said Schackner. “They just want the nugget.”

Whether you’re entering the world or reporting or you are pitching the reporters, it’s critical to understand how news is covered in the digital era.