Newspapers are not dead

Print papers will always exist.

Not surprisingly that statement was made by the publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Va.).

Tom Silvestri, publisher of the RIchmond Times-Dispatch, says newspapers need to offer relevant content. (Photo by Killeen)

Tom Silvestri, publisher of the RIchmond Times-Dispatch, says newspapers need to offer relevant content. (Photo by Killian McGiboney)

Tom Silvestri provided a compelling argument at a recent talk. He argued that newspapers understand the diehard readers and voters. Further, he said, even millennials are interested in what newspapers offer – news of the community.

The key, Silvestri said, is that newspapers have to find a way to connect with the millennials’ interest in the community.

“Boring is boring. Interesting is interesting. News is news,” Silvestri said. “I know I sound like a cranky old city editor.”

The point he was making is that while some people claim that readers are drawn to shorter pieces on the web, Silvestri said a three-inch web story won’t get read if it’s boring.

To succeed, he said, newspapers must be interesting, relevant and technology savvy. The same holds true for online content.

Silvestri also spoke about the relentless pace of news, and the push to be first, which leads some outlets to publish (including online) before facts have been verified.

“Do you want to be first or do you want to be right?” Silvestri asked. “As a publisher you want to be both.”

He added that integrity as a value is a good thing. “If you are guided by your values you are often going to make the right choice,” he said.

Today there may be newer ways of telling stories, but one thing hasn’t changed. “To be a trusted news source you have to have the facts,” Silvestri said.

He described a newsroom as the “recorder of what is actually happening.”

To remain relevant, Silvestri said, people need to find value in what newspapers do and offer. “You can’t just move from print to online,” he said. “We have to be inventive.”

He shared how the Berkshire Hathaway (the parent company of the Richmond Times-Dispatch) newspaper in Omaha, Neb., capitalizes on the region’s focus on sports by offering online radio coverage.

One way the Richmond Times-Dispatch offers unique content is through its Public Square where a topic is offered and key players are available to discuss the subject with the community. The newspaper has offered more than 50 Public Squares with large and diverse audiences.

Quality and profit are judges of innovation, Silvestri added.

Digital Journalism Requires Curiosity, Good Writing

Today Lois Lane is going to be carrying her trusty smartphone when she heads out to try to interview Superman.

During a mock interview, a journalist uses a smartphone to conduct the interview.

During a mock interview, a journalist uses a smartphone to conduct the interview.

She may still have a notebook and pen to scratch a few notes down, but she’s going to want to capture video of Superman flying through the sky to save the day and upload to the Daily Planet’s website.

“The smartphone is becoming the journalist’s tool,” Danny Finnegan, editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, told a group of communicators during a workshop.

For one thing, a smartphone makes it easier for reporters to transmit their stories. And because a  smartphone takes photos and videos, Finnegan said, “It makes enhancing stories so much easier.”

Some things about journalism haven’t changed, though, Finnegan said. Newspapers continue to hire curious reporters who have an understanding of a good story and can write well.


5 Tips for Pitching the Media

If you’re pitching a story that you wouldn’t read, don’t bother pitching it. That was the advice from a panel of reporters speaking to an audience of PR practitioners.

The panelists shared their tips for pitching them. Their advice was spot on, and, at times discouraging. Today, there are fewer reporters so it’s more challenging as PR practitioners to get our stories covered. But that doesn’t mean it can’t happen. Here are five tips to help you.  

A panel of reporters share tips on how to successfully pitch them. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

1. Perfect the pitch.Reporters are busy, too. “If I can’t read your pitch and understand it in 60 seconds, I’m deleting it,” said Dena Potter, news editor with The  Associated Press in Richmond, Va.

2. Don’t bury the news. Potter has a related piece of advice. “Don’t bury the news under a bunch of prose just to show me how well you can write.”

3. Know what’s going on. In other words, don’t pitch your feature story in the middle of a hurricane or election night coverage.

4. Use Email. Greg Gilligan, business editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, advocated for a strong subject line that “gets to the point.” He also said to paste the release or pitch in the body of the email. If he’s reading a release on his mobile, it takes too long to download and he’s likely to give up.

5. Identify contacts and spokespersons. Lara Malbon McDuffie, assignment manager of WWBT-NBC12 in Richmond, cautioned having a backup spokesperson if the primary spokesperson is unavailable. She also likes easy-to-find contacts on the website and – even better – after hour phone numbers.

What successes have you had in pitching the media?

Are You Ready for Prigital?

We’re working in a prigital age. Did you know that?

Although I was familiar with the concept, I had not heard the word until last weekend’s Virginia Press Women conference. Danny Finnegan, editor of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, spoke about how communications – newspapers in particular – are prigital because they are half print and half digital. It’s all about incorporating digital services into the content offerings to increase the ROI.

At my job we’re hard at work on the annual report, which is definitely prigital. We’ll print a few hundred copies, but otherwise a supporter can check out the interactive annual report on our website. Or they can download the app. Yep, an app for our annual report.

It’s all about information sharing and providing the content in the format that users want to receive it. Plus, with the interactive devices a supporter can make a donation at that moment from whatever device they are using to read the report.

When working in the prigital space, it’s critical to maximize key words and phrases to drive search. This is known as search engine optimization or SEO. It’s one of the reasons you don’t see as many creative headlines because now the headline must include key words.

Website design plays a role, too. If the content is refreshed often, Google will crawl the site more, which could lead to more visitors, who not only read the content, but also download offers and view ads.

While content remains king as it drives users to a site or app, it must do so with the intention of increasing ROI.

Welcome to a new age!

Longtime Reporter Dies

I’m at that age where I’m starting to read the obituaries. Today, I was deeply saddened to read the obituary for Bill Wasson, who reported for the Richmond Times-Dispatch for nearly 40 years. He died this week after a lengthy illness.

Bill was one of the stereotypical reporters — always a cigarette in his hand, always a curmudgeonly attitude, always lurking.

I came to know Bill when I served as spokesperson for the Richmond Police Department. He could drive me crazy with his questions and his need to know right now “because I’ve got a deadline.”  Some of those who worked with him would go out of their way to avoid him knowing that there would be no end in sight until Bill nailed his story.

And that’s why he’ll be missed. He was thorough. He wanted the facts. He wanted accuracy. He was going to meet his deadline, and he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

I learned quickly to anticipate his questions and find out the answers before he even showed up at a crime scene. He learned that if I didn’t come over to him right away I was still collecting my facts. 

When you spend hours at a scene waiting for information, you fill the time with conversation. Bill and I chatted about a variety of subjects. It’s hard to be friends with a reporter when you’re a spokesperson and a constant source of information, but Bill and I came as close as you could to that line.

Bill made a difference in the lives of many with his reporting so thank you Bill for living up to journalism’s ideals.