Back in the 1970s, Jody Fisher remembers walking near a studio where an on-air person sat in a dark room with a single spotlight and a microphone. He might also have had a cigarette. The man delivered the news with a quiet authoritative voice. Fisher peered through that window and marveled at this person, very calmly reading his script, inferring to everyone this was important. Fisher didn’t remember what the man said, only that he wanted to do that.
Thus began Jody Fisher’s journey towards a journalism career. He went to a college that put him behind a microphone. He worked in New York City newsrooms and was on the street with a microphone and bag phone in hand as a field reporter. His were general assignments. He throttled back and forth on story types.
He might be out on the street at four o’clock in the morning talking to taxi drivers. Then cover a court case, fire, press conferences, or feature stories. All of it would include an interview with interesting people.
When Public Relations Meets Media
A company can place an ad or purchase an advertising feature, which is an article writeup about a firm that sets it in a positive light. It is not as authentic as a story from a journalist. A story from a news outlet is like a third-party endorsement. However, pitching stories to reporters is also pitching a story to their audience. Different stories belong in different places and in different forms.
Some PR professionals will have relationships with specific reporters but if they don’t, they do need to know what they write about. A single reporter can receive hundreds of pitches in a day.
When Fisher was a reporter, he weeded out the pitches by assessing if the information was actionable. What could he do with it as a reporter? Was it appropriate? Could he use this? Is this what he wrote about? Is this what his audience reads?
“It’s got to pass the smell test,” says Fisher. “You’ve got to be familiar with the publication you’re sending to, but then beyond that, do you have the raw materials here?”
The raw materials include information the reporter can draft a story from. He can report it on a radio station or point a TV camera at it and tell the story. If the raw materials are not there and the reporter has to work at it, the delete button on the right-hand side of the reporter’s keyboard will get hit.
If a reporter has to think for more than 15 seconds about whether they can do the story, they don’t have time. There are plenty of stories they can talk about.
Behind the Scenes of a Story
Sometimes a radio reporter airs their report in the studio, sometimes they file the finished product from the road.
Fisher adds that now stories are put in the computer system. “Back when I was a reporter, you actually had to call up and talk on the phone. Someone had to record it on the other end. Now you’re just uploading it as a file, but either way there’s not a lot of editing in radio.”
There may not be a lot of editing back in the studio of that finished radio report. Sometimes it will get chopped. They’ll take that 40-second clip and cut it into little 10-second syllables.
A print reporter’s final piece can look nothing like the original. A print reporter will conduct interviews, write the story, edit their own story, and send it to their editor. The editor will come back with questions to clarify what’s being written. There is a process by which the editor copyedits down for length and for accuracy to make sure the finished product is clear. Then beyond that, the story will then get cut down in the layout process.
There may only be four inches here or six inches there. They must rearrange this. They pull out that sentence, etc. Print likely goes through the most heavily edited system from start to finish. A 1,000-word story can be cut down to 500 words. TV is somewhere in between.
It’s all about the content. It’s all about the product that you’re putting out. If the product is good, it will resonate with the audience. It will naturally attract viewers.
When you look at the people who live right next door to you, on the street, in the mall, everyone has a story. What’s your story?