Three insights for transportation communicators from today’s newsroom editors

Photo courtesy Stephanie Brown.

I was fortunate to attend a panel discussion this week sponsored by the PRSA National Capitol Chapter that featured planning editors for several news and information outlets based in Washington DC. Participants included editors representing CBS’ DC bureau, the Washington Post, the Associate Press and the Washington Business Journal.

I picked up three important insights from the panelists that are worth noting here:

The state of newspapers: Steven Ginsberg, Washington Post Deputy Political Editor (@ginsbergsteven), said that media relations people should not think about the Washington Post as a newspaper anymore. Instead, think of the Washington Post as a news organization. The Washington Post produces a very popular web site that includes dozens of specialty blogs. It offers smartphone and iPad apps. The newspaper is just ONE of the things that the Washington Post produces.

Why is this important? If we assume the Washington Post is not alone in remaking itself as a news and information service, we can assume with confidence that news cycles are no longer defined by when the presses run. With an active web site and constantly updated blogs, news can move any time of the day.

And remember, each of the mediums that the Washington Post uses to reach its readers has a different demographic reach. For instance, the people who use the web site might have different ages and backgrounds from those who read the printed paper. That means earning a mention in the Dr. Gridlock blog at the Washington Post web site might be much more effective in reaching your audience than a brief printed in the daily paper’s A section.

Social media for newsies: Ginsberg gave us a peak into the Washington Post newsroom, too. He suggested that voicemail is no longer a good way to reach a reporter. All of the panelists suggested email is by far the best way to pitch a story to an assignment editor or reporter. However, Ginsberg said that nearly everyone in the Washington Post newsroom is monitoring Twitter. And, building credibility with your Twitter feed can be a good way to catch the attention of reporters and editors. For instance, if you are forwarding stories that matter, offering insight about news within the transportation category and engaging with others over important transportation topics – you might be a useful source for a reporter covering transportation.

In other words, debate if you will the value of Twitter for passing information to the general public. But we should no longer debate the value of Twitter for passing along information to news media.

Build Relationships: This was a theme for all the panelists. It cannot be stressed enough that working ahead of your story, building a relationship with the news outlet and with the reporters covering your beat, is critical to your success in media relations. There are few things harder than pitching your story cold to reporters and editors. They do not know you and they are being hunted all day long by tactless and thoughtless PR people who are more interested in the quick hit than a long-term relationship. Without some kind of relationship, you’re just another flack angling for cheap coverage.

Yet, for most of us in the transportation business, the quick hit is meaningless. Our projects take time to develop. Our subject matter is often complex and full of political and social subtleties. So, that long-term relationship with your media is critical. Start now getting to know your beat reporters and editors. It will pay off in the long run.

A final thought on this panel. Technology is revolutionizing how we consume our news, so it is no surprise that the news media world is changing in response. A challenge for transportation communicators will continue to be keeping up with the media relations trends so that we can effectively share information about our projects and programs.

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Author: Lloyd Brown

I am the director of communications for the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. I enjoy running marathons and triathlons, playing guitar and spending time with family. My professional interest is in how social media and new technology shapes the communication relationship between government and the general public. I have a Master’s degree in Communications and Leadership from Gonzaga University in Spokane and a bachelor’s degree in Communications from Washington State University.

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