Panel on backpack reporting (L-R) Audrey Barnes (MSJ '82) WUSA-TV; Matt Ford (MSJ '06) Associated Press; Courtney Dunn (MSJ '06) formerly with WBOY-TV; and Brittany Morehouse (MSJ '03).
Backpack TV reporters may be the hardest-working journalists in the business these days. Some like the work, others bemoan the trade-offs that come with adapting to a news business that’s undergone pretty major sea changes. For some, working in TV news is becoming like that spouse whose jokes don’t quite cut it the way they used to. You gotta love them.
Why else would journalists lug equipment, make-up and notepad in a backpack and cover between one and eight stories a day (if they land in a smaller DMA). I remember covering three radio stories a day for WHUR-FM for a time, and I felt like a dishrag by day’s end. So now that I’m on the pitching end of the communications food chain, I went to my alma mater’s graduate school, hoping to gain a bit of insight about the life of a modern TV reporter. Of course, my motivation was to learn how to better pitch them and build rapport.
I didn’t learn that they were busy as heck because convergence of media has them working like what a CNN editor called “human Swiss Army knives.” I already knew that. But listening to their passion, frustration and aspirations helped me to pinpoint where a PR pro might be supportive. What is most critical for backpack journalists is time and organization. For PR professionals, that means giving them fast facts about your story and leaving the boilerplate on your Web site, not your press release. If you don’t have facts about spot news to give them, pitch them well in advance about an enterprising story they might offer an editor that involves your cause or client. If you do have facts to provide, or a statement about a developing story, send it to them using Twitter and AP mobile. In the age of media convergence, all information should be accessible in multiple formats. Even Medill recognizes the informative panel about backpack journalism could have been hashtagged for Twitter and recorded for YouTube and its Web site http://medilldc.net
Finally, appeal to a TV reporter’s journalistic passion. Most reporters are looking for feedback and recognition for consequential work. Comment on their blog and offer resources that provide perspective and insight into issues they cover. As hard as they work on a daily basis, they can’t always offer the analysis of stories they might like. But they want to do so. Appeal to that side of their journalistic sensibilities, and they’ll likely give your story serious consideration when you pitch. You’ll have the satisfaction that you have helped a journalist with a job that’s often satisfying, but getting harder every day.