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An Open Letter to Journalists and Bloggers Who Are Journalists

April 12, 2010

Dear disseminator of information,

I’ve grown tired of popular blogs humiliating PR pros for their slightly off-key pitches. Out of consternation for my own reputation and compassion for those who have spent time in the hot seat, I glumly wonder why this is such common practice.

TechCrunch’s Michael Arrington wrote about a pitch he received from a “PR flack” that mistakenly contained an email thread, a back and forth between members of the company doing the pitching, discussing the best way to pitch TechCrunch. Of course, Arrington posted the email in full for all the world to see. The post made me cringe. As “I’m so glad this isn’t me, I’m so glad this isn’t me” played on viral loop in my head, I quickly closed the window for fear Arrington could somehow see me, point, and laugh.

In this same vein are sites like Bad Pitch Blog that exist solely to deconstruct the pitches of some very unfortunate individuals. They recently panned one of Blinds.com’s competitors for their PR guy’s robotic pitch, and because he… wait for it… quoted himself in the release. Okay, that’s really bad. Plus, it looks like the blogger asked several times to be removed from the distribution list. I admit, if the blogger asked six times to be removed, the PR pro earned the criticism. Still, not everyone deserves the wrath of a blogger mis-pitched.

My focus today is whether publications, particularly pure-play publications like TechCrunch, want to receive pitches and press releases at all. Do they want to be treated as traditional newspapers and magazines in respect to pitching? I only send you things that I think are relevant to your beat or blog and have been on the receiving end of some fairly mean, snarky replies to pitches and press releases I’ve sent out. Fact: not one of those responses has come from someone who writes for a traditional, offline pub. I don’t know if that’s sheer coincidence, or if there’s a generalization I can make about the nature of pitching to bloggers vs. pitching to journalists, but there seems to be a trend.

I know journalism is changing. I read – on TechCrunch, surprise! – that 52% of bloggers consider themselves journalists. I tweeted this link, and @UrbanHoustonian responded with this:

“I don’t know if they are journalists or if the definition of journalist has changed.”

It’s both. With citizen journalism on the rise, the popularity of cell phone cameras, and the quickness with which people can be the first to upload something to the internet, we no longer rely on news crews to capture the carnage to find out in real time that something has happened. Plus, non-traditional publications are legitimately breaking news. TMZ was the first to report on Michael Jackson’s death and sites like Mashable and TechCrunch break techie/entrepreneurial news all the time. Why wait for the next-day paper to find out?

Bottom line: I want to do a better job, and I want to understand. There will be growing pains as we learn how to deal with each other in a way that makes sense for everyone. Undoubtedly, the traditional ways that journalists, both new-style and Old Guard, and PR pros interact are shifting, and we have to get creative. Believe me, we’re working on it. But, just as journalism is changing, PR is rapidly changing too. Here’s what I can promise:

  1. I promise never to send you a robotic, formulaic, impersonal pitch.
  2. I promise to read your blog/stories/column/articles before I send you anything.
  3. I promise to pay attention to your editorial calendar, if you and your organization make it available.
  4. I promise to pay attention to how and when you’d like to be pitched, if you make that information available through Cision.
  5. I promise to respect you enough that if you no longer wish to receive releases or pitches from me, I will stop.

I promise to do these things if you promise to try to understand me too. In all honesty, I can’t promise I won’t do something that, in your eyes, is egregious that other professionals think is common practice. If that happens, I profusely apologize in advance.

If there is contention between these two professions, it exists because the boundaries between who’s a journalists, who’s a PR pro, who’s a marketing guru, et al are undefined. There’s no dispensing with formality when we aren’t completely clear about what side everyone’s on. We wear many hats. One day we’re making news, one day we’re covering it, another day we’re trying to convince a journalist she should cover it. It’s complicated, so let’s try to give each other a break from time to time.

Maybe I should develop a thicker skin if I’m going to make it in this business, and I’ll work on that, but I think we’d all be better off if we’d walk a mile, as they say, in someone from the “opposing” profession’s shoes.

Though if a PR pro pitches you plantation shutters six times, even though you write about marketing, you have everyone’s permission to unleash the fury.

Best,

Esther

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 13, 2010 8:00 pm

    Amen, sister. Amen.
    Extremely well put!

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