Recently, the Public Relations Society of America’s National Capital Chapter (PRSA-NCC) held a professional development panel in which reporters discussed how best to pitch them stories in the age of mobile devices. 

The broader topic, however, was how the rise of mobile devices has changed the way news is consumed, and how reporters themselves must approach their stories.

The journalists on the panel were:

  • Andrea Shalal, Defense Industry Correspondent, Reuters
  • Lenny Bernstein, Fitness and Health Correspondent, The Washington Post
  • Lisa Stark, National News Correspondent, Al Jazeera America
  • Eric Lichtblau, Justice Department Correspondent, The New York Times

Moderator Aaron Cohen (of Aaron Cohen PR) began the proceedings with these statistics:

  • Over half of the traffic to digital news websites now comes from mobile devices
  • Mobile ad spending now accounts for 1/3 of all digital spending

These statistics were then reinforced by Bernstein, who noted that in October, 51 million of the 66 million unique visits to The Washington Post website came from phones or Kindle devices. While that month was abnormally high, The Washington Post website typically draws 60% of its traffic from mobile devices, he said.

A few other observations by the panel were:

1. The shift towards mobile has fundamentally changed the way reporters write.

Stories geared towards mobile have become shorter, grabbier, with an increased emphasis on the headers, art and initial page design.

According to Shalal, Reuters now encourages stories to be no longer than 400 words. If she wants to file a story longer than 500 words, she has to “actively pitch” her editor.

2. News stories are consumed a la carte. 

This rise of mobile devices has diminished the importance of newspaper homepages, with far more readers accessing individual stories from social media (such as Facebook) than from online news sites. Bernstein noted that, for instance, The Washington Post website now ranks fourth for how readers access the newspaper’s digital article, after “Facebook,” “Google searches,” and “other sites.”

Consequently, “It’s the story, not the site” that matters, said Bernstein. 

This trend was affirmed by Lichtblau, who noted that traffic to The New York Times homepage dropped about 50% several years ago, as readers shifted to viewing the stories via other sites.

3. For reporters, speed is paramount.

With a 24-hour news cycle and consumers demanding instant information about breaking news, much of a reporter’s focus now is purely on keeping up, as reporters are increasingly under pressure to file quickly to edge out competitors.

For Reuters to hold its position as the world’s largest wire service, their reporters must consistently publish breaking stories before Bloomberg, the Associated Press, and others, and their reporters are judged accordingly.

Consequently, said Shalal, if you’ve got intelligence on breaking news, “don’t waste my time pitching me on how cool your source is. Rather, send me a quote or two in the first contact.”

Likewise, in breaking news situations, “don’t bother asking me my deadline. Just assume it was 10 minutes ago,” she said.

4. Exclusivity still matters.

The reporters universally lauded pitches that were exclusives. 

“The first thing I do when you send me a story is to Google it,” said Bernstein. “If it’s been written about 5-6 times already, I’m far less likely to be interested than if it’s actually new.”

5. PR pros should broker the introduction, but then step away.

All of the reporters expressed frustration with the extra layer of interference that public relations consultants often represent.

The common sentiment was: “We love public relations professionals as gateways to key decision-makers, but once you’ve brokered the contact and made the introduction, please get out of the way.”

6. Make it easy on the reporter – include everything up front.

In this new paradigm of instant news appetites and increased competition among news outlets to be first, reporters ask that you include as much as possible early on.

If your pitch includes a few quotes from a subject matter expert, links to primary source material or interesting design visuals, it’s more likely to get a response.

A large part of our job at Dale Curtis Communications is building and maintaining relationships with key reporters, so that we can consistently land first-class coverage for our clients.

By knowing how news rooms have evolved along with mobile technology, clients can better understand what we do and how we can best tell your stories.