“What does the reporter really want?”
Corporations – always suspicious and publicity shy – pay PR people and media relations types a lot of money to deal with calls from the media. This is the first question we typically hear from wary executives of publicly traded companies.
What they fail to intuit, as one professor observed in the business section of last Sunday's Houston Chronicle, is that the very nature of their operations ... like drilling for shale gas ... makes them appear oppositional in any dealing with the public. Hence business' default media response is defensive and curt instead of seemingly genuine, empathetic and transparent.
As the big bang of social media continues to expand at unimaginable speed, this default stance is dangerous and counter-productive. Reporters today don't just report. They tweet, blog, post, and film. They follow Twitter, read expert blogs, carefully monitor posts on social media, read comment sections, and watch uploads to YouTube.
The better question to ask is, "What does the reporter do?" How should a corporate response to a media inquiry be shaped by current technology? What reporters write may no longer be as important as the forums they use to disseminate information.
Reporters graduating from J-schools around the country are digital natives who use digital forums that come quite naturally to them.
The Columbia Journalism Review, published by one of the nation's leading journalism school, recently asked its students to investigate this new frontier or "leading edge" of journalism. You can review their special edition HERE.
Click HERE to read about journalism experiments they identified as likely to impact the way the media covers news. Reporters are digital explorers, not just natives. They're focused on finding new mediums that, as one reporter observed of podcasting, feel "more participatory because the person's voice is in our ears."
How can corporations become part of that voice in stakeholders' ears?
Setting aside the fairly salient observation by the Harvard professor (sorry, we can't find the link to the article on the Chron site), they can start by using the same tools reporters do. Students in the CJR provided many excellent examples.
Corporations, with many resources at their disposal, should consider adopting some of these best-practices and, incorporate them into their online messaging. Offer up what reporters need on website and issues-management micro-sites.
Fundamentally, one thing will never change: Reporters want answers. Companies that can deliver messages in the formats reporters need will thrive on the new frontiers of journalism if they can strategically deliver sound bites, infographics, interactive maps, coded confirmation systems, card stacks, virtual reality, long-form articles, captivating illustrations, websites optimized for information dissemination, enhanced searchability, and targeted content.
What reporters really need are answers they can present in high-tech online forums. Deliver answers in various permutations so reporters don't even have to ask.
After all, the best media call is the one that isn't made. Eliminate the risks inherent in "talking to a reporter" by eliminating the need for media calls. As we tell all our clients, it's easily to be credibly transparent if you play the online game the right way instead of butting heads with stakeholders.