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Don’t Feed The Journalists

May 14, 2009

LAF Note: I asked one of my favorite journalists, Chris Ortiz (Founder and Editor over at to guest blog on modern day journalists and how we as PR pros can work with them. He’s a smart guy full of great information that is always challenging me – so, for those on Twitter, follow him here.

Don’t Feed the Journalists
Christopher J. Ortiz/editor of

MandrillBut if you do, they might actually show up to your events. The modern-day journalist (liberalis scriptoris) is a very particular and unique species. Unlike their ancestors, today’s journalists do not enjoy being the king of the media environment. They have been dethroned by a new species – the blogger.  Journalists are sensitive creatures but with a lot of care and attention, they can make great pets for PR folks.

To understand modern-day journalists (and have them cover your story), it’s critical to observe them in their natural habitat – the newsroom. There you can watch journalists interacting with each other. For those in the PR field, it’s important to note the newsroom’s hierarchy.

There are the beat journalists, who live at the bottom of the newsroom’s food chain. Above the beat reporters are the desk editors. Desk editors are the gathers of the newsroom pride. Desk editors gather the news bits for the journalist and send them off to report the news. Above desk editors are a mass assortment of editors with their own offices. These editors tend to keep away from the daily gathering of news and unless you are a very very important member of your own pride, they probably won’t see you and will just send you to a desk editor.

PR folks who want a journalist to cover their story need to keep in mind journalists are fastidious and temperamental creatures. They don’t react well to taking orders (ask any nighttime editor) and don’t respond well to change (see the Internet). To get a journalist eating out of the palm of your hand and using the litter box, it’s critical to gain the trust of the creature. This is done best by praising the past work of the journalist. Example phrases include, “I love that piece you did about school lunches,” or  “Your story about the new quilting club was very interesting.”  This helps lowers the
journalist’s guard. Once this is done, the journalist is more likely to approach you and your press release.

In order for the journalist to take the bait, PR folks must dress up the press release as something the journalist might be interested in – much like in the way you put your dog’s medicine inside a treat so it will eat it. Tell the journalist you heard of a really cool event and he or she is the first person you thought of to call. Never mind that you have made 15 calls to other journalists.

When your journalist arrives at your event, make sure to express your gratitude and make the journalist feel comfortable. And this is super important – make sure to feed the journalist, even if it’s leftover Chinese food and stale crackers.  Remember, much like stray cats, journalists will return to you if you feed them. During the event, journalists like it when you direct them, ideally by the hand, to all your talking heads to get quotes and statements. This saves time and keeps the journalist from having to squint at nametags.

After your event has taken place, insure the journalist has everything he or she needs for the story. The spelling of important names, copies of speeches and most importantly, an idea of what the event was actually about.

And that is the guide for taking care of your journalist. Just remember journalists and PR folks form a symbiotic relationship. One wouldn’t survive without the other. (LAF Joke: Much like the Lion King, let’s all sing the Circle of Life.)

33 Comments leave one →
  1. May 14, 2009 3:05 pm

    This is a hilarious look at the PR/Journalist relationship. Many truths in this piece, too.

    I think personalization is key – if its a personal e-mail, phone call, compliment or walk to the watering hole – its the little touches that add something.


  2. Kristie Aylett, APR permalink
    May 14, 2009 3:12 pm

    Great post, Christopher. Thanks for finding him for us, Lauren.
    We mustn’t forget about the benefits of ongoing care and nurturing too. Just like belly rubs or applying flea/tick medicine, providing journalists with regular story leads, sources (not always related to our own organizations) and lots of sincere appreciation goes a long way toward building a long-term relationship. We want to keep them coming to our doorsteps when they’re hungry, knowing that we won’t feed them crap.

  3. Ken Raymond permalink
    May 14, 2009 3:49 pm

    Clever. In a single piece of writing, you’ve managed to gorge on self-importance AND anger your “pet” journalists. This piece is making its way through our newsroom right now. I’m tracking its spread by listening to the gasps of outrage. Perhaps you can learn a lesson from this, one most journalists already know: The best way to develop sources is to treat them with respect; the worst way is to trash them in print.

    • May 14, 2009 4:44 pm

      Hi Ken,

      I apologize if this was taken badly – it was not my intention. I asked a journalist friend to write a humorous satire on the relationship between the two. I respect journalists, as many are my friends and I have been successful at media relations. I never want to come across as set important – and I truly believe a sarcastic post does not demonstrate that.

  4. debbie anglin permalink
    May 14, 2009 4:10 pm

    What a horrible and simplistic view, Lauren. I’m surprised that a PR rep for Mensa would reprint a blog that is such a patronizing and unsophisticated view of the relationship between PR folks and journalists. Pretty stupid.

    • May 14, 2009 4:21 pm

      Hi Debbie,

      I’m sorry that you feel that way. My intention was not to belittle the relationship – I asked Chris to post on this topic as a journalist. He wrote what I consider to be witty. My personal blog does not represent Mensa in any way – and calling me stupid does not get your point across. I am actually not a member of Mensa, as National staff is not allowed to. I do apologize, but I reposted this as me, not as Mensa. The organization is for all walks of life – and they all have diff types of intelligence.

  5. Brenda Christensen permalink
    May 14, 2009 4:20 pm

    I was a former journalist – that’s the best PR experience in the world.

  6. May 14, 2009 4:23 pm

    Hilarious, with a blend of self deprecation. Journalists (and some bloggers) and PR people are intertwined and neither can live without the other to break news in the most efficient manner possible. The process has sped up and thus we have to rely on each other and work together to effectively deliver a quality product.

    The knitting part killed me btw…

  7. May 14, 2009 4:24 pm

    @Debbie: I think this article was written with more then a fair amount of sarcasm. The main points of the article are extremely beneficial to both parties. It’s important to have a sense of humor about these matters…especially since we all tend to take ourselves far to seriously.

  8. davidmullen permalink
    May 14, 2009 4:27 pm

    Chris – what a fun, light-hearted post to read. Thanks for making it interesting. If this was yet another “ways to build healthy relationships with journalists” post, I would have skipped right over it. Appreciate the take on it.

    Lauren – don’t worry about the naysaying comment above. Some folks need to recognize satire when they see it and allow themselves to have a good chuckle. I mean, we’re talking about PR, not ER, here.

  9. May 14, 2009 4:31 pm

    Lauren and Chris — Thanks for this glimpse into the journalist’s life as well as how he sees PR pros, and all served up with a wild sense of humor. I think we all can gain insight from this that will help us work better together in this day of change. Keep them coming…both of you.

  10. Sheema permalink
    May 14, 2009 4:35 pm

    I found this article to be well-written and sarcastic- anyone who takes it seriously probably doesn’t understand the relationship between PRs & journalists, and therefore doesn’t get the humor. I’d rather read a blog post that takes a humorous tone rather than a critical one. It gets the point across but makes it fun!

  11. May 14, 2009 4:40 pm

    Stuart, being compared to a dog is not funny for those of us struggling in this uncertain news business. There are fewer reporters now, so we have more pitches to pick from. Now is not the time to cause antagonism. Besides, reporters can tell when a public relations person is being insincere or manipulative. Luckily, most I work with are upfront and real.

    • May 14, 2009 4:48 pm

      Hi Susan – this post was not written by a PR professional, but by a journalist friend of mine. It was meant as humorous and as satire. Things have been extremely depressing lately, and I’m sure Chris only wanted to make people laugh.

  12. May 14, 2009 4:45 pm

    Chris – you are a talented and insightful writer.What a hilarious comparison.

    As a new PR professional your words of “care” are very welcomed. For other new PR pros out there here’s my care tip: Ask to tour the newsroom. It’s a great way to gain understanding about the newsroom hierarchy and build relationships.


  13. May 14, 2009 4:47 pm

    To echo Sheema, David, Mary, and the other commenters who get that this was satire meant to give a few solid media relationship lessons I will say thanks to Chris for writing and thanks to Lauren for sharing.

    And it’s worth repeating Stuart’s point, “It’s important to have a sense of humor about these matters…especially since we all tend to take ourselves far to seriously.”

  14. May 14, 2009 5:04 pm

    Certainly, everyone is entitled to their opinion and the written word is always subject to much interpretation. However, are we to assume that by taking creative license (with a dash of humor or sarcasm) to make a valid point (in our perspective) that it is “stupid”? I think not.

    In a blog, I once called my little sister’s neurosurgeon a RockStar and her neuro-oncologist a superhero’s sidekick ( a helluva profession if you can get it). Perhaps they would have been appalled or irritated (particularly if they hated rockstars or had always hoped to Batman, not Robin)? The way I see it… I was adding humor to an otherwise dry piece … nothing more …

    Perhaps we should appreciate the post for its creative bent (even if you don’t agree). Thank the author for taking the time. And, hell, maybe we could giggle… just a little…


  15. May 14, 2009 5:17 pm

    Lovely guest-posting here. Witty satire. Entertaining, intelligent, and, from what I can understand from watching both sides, also a bit of truth (which is what makes it as witty and entertaining as it is). I’ve gone on to take your recommendation of following Chris on Twitter, as well, and look forward to seeing more from both of you.

  16. May 14, 2009 5:35 pm

    Lauren – thank you for finding Chris, and asking him to do this post. I agree with Stuart and David, anybody who couldn’t tell that there was a HEAVY bit of satire in this post isn’t reading very well for context. Perhaps I am more thick skinned then some of the people offended by this post, but if someone wanted to equate me (a PR pro) to an animal (or any other abstract object for that matter) in the name of making a constructive argument about our industry I would listen.

    One other point worth making…we aren’t rocket scientists OK? We are PR pros and journalists. Yes, we are charged with a serious job. No, it isn’t life and death. We can talk about the ins and outs of how to interact with one another, but the second you take yourself too seriously you are dead in this industry. You can smell it from 10,000 miles away. It seems to me that some may be taking themselves too seriously here.

  17. libbykrah permalink
    May 14, 2009 5:50 pm

    I got a kick out of this post. In the ongoing power struggle between journalists and PR folks, it’s nice to see someone emerge from one side and poke fun at himself. Even better that it was done in a clever way, was fun to read AND actually had some truthful tips, too!

    I’m sorry to see some of the reactions. It seemed clear to me that this was a light-hearted post and not meant to offend or criticize. But then again, I’m pretty familiar with self-deprecating humor. I’m also familiar with your blog and personality, Lauren. And after reading this post, I checked out – I think that should clear up Chris’ intentions, too.

  18. May 14, 2009 6:36 pm

    Obviously, I don’t think this was intended to be taken seriously. However, I have way too much respect as an individual – not just a communicator – for certain news outlets and bloggers to boil it down to these simple terms – even in a satirical fashion.

    • May 14, 2009 6:39 pm

      Patrick – You are one of the people that I respect the most. I value your comments and it’s something that I hope you know I value. I have the utmost respect for journalists and news outlets – and by posting Chris’ guest post, my intention was not to hurt them at all.

  19. May 14, 2009 6:58 pm

    @DebbieAnglin, the irony here is that your comment says so much more about you than this guest post reflects on Lauren (as evidenced by *her* community’s appreciation for the post).

    @Susan Simpson, @Ken Raymond… Wow!! What a short term memory for some of you journalists out there! Do any of you remember “Whack-a-Flack?!” (circa 2001) A game created by journalists to whack spammy PR folks? If I remember correctly, it was certainly sarcastic and journalists loved it. Did they care that *we* PR folks might not like being all lumped together?! No, of course not…
    Why so sensitive to a little sarcasm from one of your own?

    Here’s a WAF reminder, in case it’s needed (see the category?!): (

  20. Bryan Dean permalink
    May 14, 2009 7:36 pm

    I don’t think my fellow journalists would take offense to this if it were posted on a blog written by a journalist for journalists. But this falls into the category of “They can’t do that to our pledges. Only WE can do that to our pledges.”

    My co-workers and I will gladly sit around and complain about all the things wrong with our company and our industry, but when someone from the outside starts to criticize, the natural reaction is to circle the wagons. Basic human psychology.

    I understand this was written by a journalist, but it was posted by and is being laughed at by PR professionals, and it is belittling to journalists. And some of the tactics it mentions, even if meant as a joke, reinforce some of the worst stereotypes about both our industries.

    I’m glad some of you found it funny, but clearly not everyone saw it that way.

    @Beth Harte, I think I can say with certainty that Susan and Ken were not personally responsible for a flash game you didn’t like eight years ago. But the fact that you still remember it sort of makes their point. No one likes to have their profession belittled, especially by someone outside the industry.

    • May 14, 2009 8:11 pm

      Hi Bryan,

      Thank you for a great comment – and I do mean that. It was constructively written and wasn’t attacking on me or the guest writer personally. I understand where you are coming from – PR people have been fed up for years of how we are portrayed. I truly believe that Chris wanted to do a humorous approach to the dynamic between the two – and how we can work together. I know that I personally have used many of the tactics he mentions in working with my journalist friends. I also ran this by a couple of editors I know to see what they thought – and they found it funny. It does make the point though that the industry as a whole is not the same. I know that I only have respect for the field of journalism, as I do have a journalism degree and have spent some time in the newsroom. It’s not comparable by any means, but I do think that you made great points. Thank you for reading – and for responding in such a professional manner.

  21. May 14, 2009 9:20 pm


    Sorry I’m late to the party — was in a conference all day and am just now catching up on stuff!

    I wasn’t familiar with Chris or his writing, so thinks for sharing one of your friends with us. I appreciate the humorous look at our every day lives.

    As a PR person, I’m pretty used to people not understanding what I do … or saying that I’m just in the “spin” business — so this post didn’t strike me as out of line. At the same time, I’ve learned that things can be taken the wrong way online sometimes. It’s unfortunate, but I guess that’s just the world we live in. I want to commend you for how you’ve handled this situation. I think it’s great that you’ve engaged people who don’t agree with your decision to post this on your blog. Also, it’s worth noting that most people who have read more than one post from you absolutely know where you stand. We know how much respect you hold for journalism as an industry, and more importantly, for the journalists you work with on a day-to-day basis. I look forward to reading your #followfriday tomorrow … and whatever posts are on the horizon.

    Heather (@prtini)

  22. May 14, 2009 11:35 pm

    Wow! What a discussion this post sparked. Lauren, it’s great to see that you’ve built such a strong community on your blog of people who know you and know that you’re a fun gal who would never seek to intentionally offend people.

    Hearing different points of view about a topic is what makes the ‘blogosphere’ so energizing. While I certainly don’t agree with the manner in which some of the commenters chose to express their opinions, I want to commend you for the way you so maturely and professionally addressed each comment. So many people would just attack back and allow the comments to devolve into petty, catty arguing. But you showed such poise and professionalism in your responses and that allows for even stronger and more meaningful conversation and debate.

    Good job, LAF.


  23. Greg permalink
    May 15, 2009 3:09 am

    I’m a journo and I thought it was really funny. Even the headline was great. One of the first things I was told while taking a high school journalism class when I was 15 was, “don’t accept the free food at events.”
    Anyhow, despite some comments of disapproval, I you did a great job. Any journo would laugh. I mean seriously, we reporters are pets of the editors as well. We go where we’re told, eat when we are told, and most times we even write stories to certain lengths because we were told too.

  24. May 15, 2009 4:03 am

    With everything going on right now, everyone is so negative. I think this piece, while not being meant to be informational or groundbreaking, served its purpose. A journalist came on, wrote an entertaining piece. He could have simply wrote a textbook post on how PR & journalists can work together. That’s been done before. So instead, he wrote an entertaining post. Isn’t that what a journalist is suppose to do? He drew readers in, told a story and got us talking. That’s his job.

    We all want to stand up for the integrity of our profession. If you don’t agree with the post, that’s fine. However, to attack Lauren and lump her employer into this post is unfair and completely off base. Lauren is all for a free forum for readers to come and share their thoughts. There will always be a difference of opinion. The journalists should know this – take a look at your local newspaper’s Web site. But the key is to keep the criticism useful.

    IMO, a great article on a great blog. Keep up the great work Lauren.

  25. May 15, 2009 3:48 pm

    IMHO, unless you are someone that is REALLY doing something ‘big’ like
    * curing big problems like world famine or cancer
    * saving lives (i.e. in the military, policeman, fireman, nurse, doctor)
    * nurturing our future (i.e. teacher)

    …there’s plenty of room for a sense of humor – especially when you consider the fact that just about everyone I know that falls under the above-noted jobs have a GREAT sense of humor.

    Not that I have a PhD in English, but this piece was oozing in satire and tongue-in-cheek sensibilities.

    Let’s just take a breather and talk it over a pint and share a few laughs…!…Whaddya say…? 🙂

  26. May 25, 2009 4:32 am

    The most-commented blog posts related to journalism and PR are always the ones that touch on the relationship between both sides.

    Whether it’s a post about the problem of “PR spam” or a parody of parallels between the newsroom and the zoo, PR pros and journalists take things too seriously sometimes.

    The best relationships I’ve seen between journalists and PR pros are the ones where both sides can poke fun, have a good laugh and get on with the work at hand.

    I found the post – and the comments so far – entertaining. Thanks for sharing.

  27. Angel permalink
    May 25, 2009 3:34 pm

    This is right on. As a former reporter, now PR person, I really think PR folks try to take their job too seriously. All the strategizing, media list development, blahblahblah. Chris nails it on the head. It’s really not that difficult to make reporters happy and keep ’em coming back.


  1. Recommended Reading For May 14th, 2009 « Legends of Aerocles

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