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How Do Journalists and Bloggers Decide What to Write About?

How do journalists and bloggers decide what to write about?

If you guessed they get all their ideas from PR people, you’re dreaming. Though a surprising number do. While it may be common sense for some of you, some might not know how journalists and bloggers decide what to write about (or which stories to produce in the broadcast arena).

So how do journalists and bloggers decide what to write about? Here are a few of the most common responses we’ve heard from talking to dozens of them:

  • They get assigned a story from editors, along with the sources they should interview for the piece – often from an in-house database of go-to sources, built through long-term relationships with experts and PR professionals.
  • They write a story based on recent news events – in other words, they write about the news of the day. This is one of the biggest areas of opportunity for PR pros, since they can latch onto the hot stories to position their experts as spokespeople or suggest new and exciting angles to cover. Tie-ins to Twitter and the Octo-Mom coverage are two current examples.
  • They get an idea for a story based on their knowledge and experience covering a beat, and reach out to their trusted sources to flesh out the details.
  • They have original ideas for stories that aren’t out there. They come up with story ideas we’ve never thought of, do the research, and entertain us with their findings. PR can play a role here, if pros can point out a story-of-interest that hasn’t been told yet.
  • They expand upon coverage another journalist or blogger has written about, offering us fresh perspective or counter point, or telling the article as it relates to us locally.
  • They talk to people. They stay in close contact with their best sources or they attend industry events and conferences. The challenge for you is

This is only a sampling of ways journalists and bloggers decide what to write about. Understanding how story ideas originate can help you be a more effective media relations professional.

Keep reading for more information on Where Journalists Find Information About Your Company and Where Journalists Look to Find Expert Sources.

Where Do Journalists Find Information About Your Company?

According to PRWeek’s 2008 Media Survey, 89% of journalists say they acquire information about a company from company Web sites, 73.8% use Google, 72.7% from e-mailed press releases and 70.9% from a conversation or personalized email from a PR person. 49.5% use newswires, while only 13.9% use RSS feeds.

Where Do Journalists Find Expert Sources?

Perhaps the most significant data in this study revolves around the ongoing importance of developing strong relationships with the media. 86.2% cite personal contacts as “extremely” or “very” important in finding experts for stories. 66.9% choose news articles, 55.1% company websites, 52.2% from readers who contact them, and 49.6% pick press releases. This last number is surprising, since so many journalists seem to complain about the volume and quality of press releases they receive.

The data didn’t cover query services like HARO (Help A Reporter Out) or PR Newswire’s ProfNet services. We know these services are used by a few thousand journalists on a regular basis, issuing an average of close to 100 queries per day on each.

But What About Social Media?

The PRWeek survey didn’t get into the use of social media like Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to find sources for stories, but it’s obvious the next version of the survey will show a significant spike in the number of journalists turning to social media to help them find story ideas and sources.

In fairness, the survey did gauge journalist participation in social media, finding that 29% are on Facebook, 25.5% on MySpace and 32.3% on LinkedIn. It will be interesting to see the numbers on Twitter, as it appears to be the platform of choice for media.

The Age-Old Issue of Relevancy

When asked what percentage of pitches they receive are relevant to the subject they cover, 48.5% say 0%-25%. 26.1% say 26%-50% are relevant, and 16.9% say 51%-75%. Only 7% of respondents say 76%-100% of pitches are relevant.

I can tell you from my conversations with journalists and bloggers that these numbers vary significantly on a case-by-case basis. For example, in a recent conversation with a business journalist from a major business news network, I was surprised to hear that almost all the pitches the journalist received were of value. In the technology sector, I have found few journalists and bloggers that share this sentiment.

Understanding where journalists and bloggers get ideas for stories, and where they source their information from, are keys to increasing your media relations success. It’s your responsibility to then make yourself relevant.

You’ve heard it time and time before, but it’s the truth. The best way to score coverage is to read and understand what the journalist or blogger writes about, what their interests are, the types of information they like to receive, and how they like to receive information. If you don’t know this going into a pitch, you’re setting yourself (and your client) up for failure and disappointment.

Journalists and bloggers: how do you decide what to write about? What sources of information are most helpful for finding experts?

About Jeremy Porter

Jeremy Porter is co-founder and editor of Journalistics, a lively blog about public relations and journalism topics.