The relationship between journalist and PR professional throughout history has been a constant ‘tug of war.' Journalists are charged with weeding through endless pitches to get to the heart of a story relevant to their audience, while PR professionals are charged with crafting their clients’ stories and bringing interesting points of view to the table worthy of media coverage.
To further explore this relationship and better understand the needs of journalists, today my firm - Indicate Media - is posting the first in a series of One-On-One With Tech Journalists. Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll bring you Q&A’s from respected journalists, highlighting their views on everything from working with PR professionals to thoughts on what’s happening in their respective industries and coverage areas.
Feel free to read through and pass these insights to others. Our hope is to not only bring value to those on our side of the fence (shout out to the PR professionals), but help us all better understand what journalists really want and need, so we can adjust our strategy and make this complex relationship less of a weird ‘tug of war’ and perhaps more of an awkward hug between cousins. You get the point!
For our inaugural Q&A, we had a chance to catch up with Jennifer Kite-Powell, a Forbes contributor who covers science, robotics, and innovative technology.
1. With a background in political and government communications, how did you end up getting into tech journalism and specifically covering robotics and science?
My degree was actually in Journalism but since that paid so poorly and I could not get my dream job of working at National Geographic, I went into political and government communications which possible paid just as poorly. Actually, the idea is that if you are a good writer, you can write about anything as my first journalism job was writing for Golf Magazine and I don’t even play golf.
2. What are one or two major things you’ve seen change in tech journalism and media landscape over the past five or so years? And have they been for the better or worse?
Hands down, it’s the short attention span that digital communications has brought to us, and our ability to read something that is more than 400 words.
There’s a big difference between tech journalism and science journalism and in fact a bigger difference between what tech pubs write about versus just clone to get a story out. I would say fewer stories and more short attention span summaries of news with no relevance for the reader.
3. In your experience, what are the major differences between the general tech landscape in Europe and the U.S. and how (if at all) does this affects the tech media/reporting?
I don’t think this applies at all; apps aren’t really made with one market in mind so why should the coverage be any different? I have heard it said (on Twitter) that U.K. journalists write as if their mothers are reading over their shoulders and U.S. journalists write is if their college professors are. I think that we have to disengage from this Europe vs. U.S. debate and just write a story that people can relate to. For instance, the Glowing Plant project was written about globally but you can’t even get the plants in Europe due to regulations, but it didn’t matter. Was it news? Yes. Did it interest people? Yes. Unless you are writing in a native language about something that affects JUST your citizenry, it should not matter
4. Former FT journalist Tom Foremski recently opined, “Tech journalism has lost its way.” To what extent do you agree with this?
I would have to 100% agree. Tech journalism what? The example of CES or MWC is a great case in point — where we boil it down or synthesize into a few key words or summaries based on the dozen or so media outlets or reporters that grab onto the lowest common denominator. Tech journalism is now lazy, jaded and can’t think beyond itself. Foremski makes one of the best points I have ever read when he says the Internet of Things is mundane. It is and what does it mean? We latch onto these terms and shove them down our reader’s throats and they are now wandering around spouting things they probably don’t have any relationship to. Case in point — anything now we put in our ears that is a connected device is now called “hearables” not “wearables” Down the rabbit hole we go.
5. As a tech journalist, where do you get most of your news, tips and story ideas from today (e.g., PR folks, social media, direct contact from companies/startup founders)?
Your know oddly, I get most of them from PR folks and then the DIY CEO’s who think they can just pass along a press release and that does the trick. Recently, someone sent me a blog post and said, “I would love to have this covered in Forbes.” A blog post. Founders are the worst, they tell no story and send a bunch of links, PowerPoints and say “under embargo” which means nothing. Again, back to the idea of a story or as Foremski says, how does it relate to our lives?
The best pitches I get are from scientists actually, if you can believe it. And, of course the PR people that now know I am looking for how that product relates to the tech or the person or how we live our lives. People care more about reading the impact something makes on them.
6. What are the types of stories that interest and excite you the most (e.g., tech conferences, social entrepreneurship, startups, big companies e.g., Apple, Facebook, Google)?
Interesting. This again is about the connection more than the news. Big companies? What is innovative about that? They increasingly turn to hackers or developers to help them innovate. Did you know General Motors just created a hacker community to help them innovate for smart cars? No because it’s not sexy enough for tech journalists. I learned that two 16 years olds from Manhattan who can’t even drive created a driving app that allows their parents to see how many hours they logged and transmits to their drivers ed so that it’s tracked and monitored while they are in the car. Who knew?
Obviously, I lean towards any topic that affects how we love, live, sleep, vote, relate with our environment or discoveries and what that means.
7. What tips would you give communications professionals in building relationships with tech journalists (or are good relationships archaic in the fast-paced world of tech reporting)?
I would tell them to think and push back on their client. It’s fast paced sure but are people reading that news story about product version 1.45? Probably not or maybe at a tech level someone is. But my best advice is don’t give me something the day before and say it’s under embargo and don’t just send me a release, tell me what it means. I would say about 1% of people do that, and those are the people that I normally write about.
8. Where do you see tech journalism in 5 years? Will as some have contented, all journalism be tech journalism?
I can’t even see past next week. There is no telling where it will be, technology is constantly evolving as are us humans and our desires, hopes, needs and wishes. Word on the street is that we now have a 9 second attention span on the internet. Esquire has a short-short fiction contest that is only 72 words. There will always be short form media outlets and longer form media outlets. I mean Forbes is not like VentureBeat, which is not like QZ, which is not like Fast Company. I think as long as words stay legal, tech journalism will continue to breathe in many different places in many different forms.
9. (Just for fun) Word has it you’re a Game of Thrones fan. Who is your favorite character and why?
Well according to the Game of Thrones quiz, I am Arya Stark, which I was happy with, as she is certainly a survivor and looks good in both short and long hair. I usually carry a little sword with which to mince words anyway.