Stacks of newspapers

What I Learned about PR by Working in Newsrooms

Before starting out as a public relations professional, I garnered experience in journalism through my college major and internships at print publications and broadcast stations. With this, I gained knowledge that has made a vital impact in my career.

I worked at the Montgomery Sentinel in Montgomery County, Md., as a print and video intern, pitching and writing stories. I saw firsthand how editors chose stories and communicated with PR firms. When pitching an idea to these editors, we had to summarize the story’s relevance, the potential interviewees and its newsworthiness.

After my time at the Sentinel, I interned at Fox 5 DC (WTTG-TV), where I took part in editorial meetings, pitched stories, shadowed reporters and producers and watch live airings of Good Day DC. As you can imagine, the newsroom was chaotic, especially when stories broke. As a PR professional, this taught me how to manage client expectations when trying to land a broadcast opportunity. For example, during a hectic news cycle such as election season, I’d recommend that clients step back and consider whether or not it is the best time to pitch said story, with respect to the likelihood of it getting picked it up.

In addition to that lesson, here are other PR tips I learned from my days in print and television newsrooms:

Don’t underestimate the power of the general assignment desk. Reporters receive literally hundreds of email and phone pitches on a daily basis. On a typical day at a broadcast station, the general assignment desk (including interns) are answering phones, reading emails and doing story research. As a result, the general assignment desk holds a lot of power in determining which stories are picked up. So target these professionals in pitching, not only with phone calls but emails. There is a good chance someone there will catch your pitch.

News cycle changes demand flexibility. We all know that news cycles change at any moment when events break. While interning at Fox 5 DC, there were plenty of times when I would shadow a reporter as they conducted interviews and prepared for a story that was set to run during the evening or nightly news. However, due to a cycle change, these same stories were bumped in a matter of minutes. Understanding this notion of “a matter of minutes” is key because it is not set in stone that your story will post until you actually see it. It is important to communicate these expectations with your clients, especially when dealing with broadcast news.

Timing is everything with reporters and producers. In most newsrooms, reporters are trying to find stories in early mornings and early afternoons. In the middle of the day, they’re either out conducting interviews or back in the office filing stories under tight deadlines. From my experience, I would recommend pitching reporters between 6:00 to 9:00 a.m. as most morning editorial meetings occur just after this time frame. If possible, you want to catch reporters and producers before they walk into these meetings and pitch potential stories to the team. Similarly, there are typically editorial meetings at mid-afternoon for the evening news, so it’s best to send pitches by 2:00 p.m. for this time slot.

At the end of the day, everyone at a PR agency brings different perspectives to help them navigate through various situations. Overall, my experiences taught me how a newsroom works, and what producers, editors and reporters seek in the stories we pitch. With this knowledge, our W2 Communications team achieves greater success in capturing the attention of the publication or broadcast station we are aiming for.