Will charging to read the news change how we pitch story ideas?

February 27, 2011 at 5:10 pm 4 comments

More and more newspapers are considering bolstering their financials by charging readers for content, according to an article posted last week in American Journalism Review.  The article discusses the dilemma from a publisher’s point of view, but I can’t help wondering what it means for those of us working with reporters and editors to tell our clients’ stories.

 Reporter Cary Spivak, of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, says some papers are charging for all of their content, others are using a meter system and others charge for special stories. Spivak also says some of their content will continue to be available without charge.

How will this change the way a reporter or editor evaluates information we give them? Will publications skew their news coverage by making available more stories that people will pay for, rather than stories that have important political and social impact? Will they ignore stories that might not be as exciting or that don’t sell as well as others?  Will they look for spokesperson stars (“spokestars”?) instead of quotable, knowledgeable people?

If any of these answers are affirmative, it could mean we will have to change how we develop and pitch story ideas. Perhaps we will have to put reputation and point of view in the backseat behind sellability.  Or maybe we will have to pick our spokespeople based on star-ability rather than credibility. 

This is a scenario that could have grave consequences for our profession and our democracy. Of course, if we’re doing our jobs well now, our spokespeople are knowledge and well-spoken and, if we’re lucky, approaching spokestar quality. The stories we’re pitching should be developed to not only present our point of view and bolster our clients’ reputations, but to be exciting, full of information and something that should help a reporter tell a story others will want to read, even if they have to pay for it.

But the idea of stories being judged on their ability to get people to open their wallets instead of their minds gives me pause. What do you think?


Entry filed under: Dealing with social media, Ethics in Public Relations, Media Relations, reputation, stuff & rants, Writing. Tags: , , , , , , , , , .

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  • 1. Pam  |  February 28, 2011 at 4:50 pm

    Unless you’re pitching to an advertorial section, the reporters you pitch to are already weighing what you say and often using your pitched information to their own purpose. When someone pitches a story to me, I’m not so much interested in the pitchman’s spin. I’m more interested in fitting it into a story I’d want to write.

    For example, let’s say a major commercial real estate broker gets a client to sign a big lease and his PR company sends me a press release about what a good job the broker did. He names the agents involved, adds some quotes and ends the story with contact information so that other companies looking for a place to lease can find the broker.

    But as a reporter for the main section of the newspaper, I’m more interested in the economic impact. Will this lease lead to more jobs in the area? Will the new tenant bring much needed services, such as medical services or a new restaurant? If not, I’m probably not going touch the story. I really don’t care how good a job the broker and his agents did.

    It’s different in the advertorial sections, where we generally print stories from advertisers and publicize residential real estate in our papers’ circulation areas.

    Frankly, when we start charging for online content at http://www.mycentraljersey.com (and I have no idea when that will be, but I’m sure it will come within the next few years), I don’t see that my attitude about pitches will change at all.

    • 2. dougtheprguy  |  February 28, 2011 at 5:33 pm

      Thanks for a great response from the other side of the notebook!

  • 3. Ethan Fenichel  |  March 4, 2011 at 8:47 am

    Good question! I was under the impression that most of these will be subscription deals, not a la carte. I would think that getting a story into a subscription publication would be valuable since those who see it really want to. From a findability standpoint, how will putting these articles behind closed doors affect search engine optimization? Will users searching for your company still be able to find the stories and will they pursue the articles if they now have to pay for them?

    • 4. dougtheprguy  |  March 4, 2011 at 12:15 pm

      You’re right about the placement being more valuable, but the publications will know that too. If they live and die on how many people click on an article or take a subscription, will they be tempted to change how they decide what stories to run, though. I’m hoping that they may be more selective, but won’t change basic news judgement. That will make us do our jobs better, and I don’t have a problem with that, especially knowing some of the schlock that some PR people peddle.

      Your question about SEO is a big one and I don’t know the answer. I’ll post this and we’ll see if anyone does.



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