Trust me, I’m a journalist: 5 reasons not to fear local reporters
A new poll out shows journalists have taken a kick right in the trustworthiness.
The annual research asks people whether they trust a whole range of professions.
Since I started as a cub reporter in the early 90s, the media’s always had a hard time in this survey – so should you trust a local journo?
Our small business media training courses show people how to come up with stories about their companies, and how best to approach a journalist with them.
One common theme is that people are frightened at the prospect of approaching reporters, because of all the terrible things they’ve read about how the media works.
So let me give you five reasons you shouldn’t be as afraid of approaching your local media as the Ipsos MORI poll might make you believe:
1: Local press isn’t national press
It’s easy to be tarred with the same brush as the national UK press, tabloids in particular. The temptation to lump a local journalist in with the likes of the Daily Mail, the Sun or the News of the World can be overwhelming.
In fact, nationals work entirely differently to local media outlets. For a start, your legal budget is far lower. Nationals can write what they like, then bring in teams of lawyers to defend libel or privacy cases in a war of attrition.
Locals simply don’t have that option, so they’re much more careful about what they write and how it’s written. That doesn’t mean avoiding stories, simply that trampling all over people would be a whole lot harder: even if you didn’t mind doing it.
And chequebook journalism? That might work for agencies who sell local stories on to nationals, but local media companies simply don’t have the money. Not to mention paying someone for their story means you can’t exactly trust what they say.
2: People consume local news
A lot of people love to predict the end of local news – the internet is bound to take over from papers and radio, right?
Not quite. Locally, readership is still high – at least for the outlets that can adapt to changing patterns of news consumption. Social media is vital to news organisations, and none more so than locals. People are consuming local news, just not in the way they used to.
Plenty of people tell me they “never buy a paper” or “never listen to the radio” but then mention stories from local outlets. How? They saw it on Facebook.
Local news, particularly online, serves a need the nationals never will. Want to know why police have sealed your road off? Need to know which roads are closed because of snow or flooding? You don’t check the nationals.
I once met a potential advertiser at a “meet and greet” event. Reporters are usually kept well away from the people who ultimately pay the bills, in case they scare them off. He told me he never bothered with local media, and only read national broadsheet “serious” news. Quick as a flash, an ad rep asked “And what do your customers read?”
He signed up.
3: Reporters are people, not monsters
Local journalists live and work in the communities they cover. They’re people, too – which means they’re not interested in the sort of journalism practised by the red-tops.
It would be very hard to live somewhere if you wrote for the equivalent of a local Daily Mail, for example. The sensibilities of your audience are much more pertinent when you work for a local – after the piece is written, you can’t simply up sticks back to Manchester or London chuckling at the outrage you’ve sparked.
In general, local reporters are very positive about their communities. Why would you stay and write about it otherwise? There’s a perception journalists love bad news – which may be true to an extent (readership figures show people read bad news and so it’d be easy to write only that), but ask most reporters what their favourite stories are and you’ll rarely find a tragedy in the list.
That’s not to suggest any journalist is perfect. The difference in the media is that your mistakes are very public, and they’re long-remembered. That’s why you try your best not to make any… it may happen, but it’s never malicious. No local reporter with that sort of reputation lasts very long.
4: A journalist wants a story – it could be yours
Here’s where it gets interesting for your business. The media is a beast that needs feeding. Constantly. No newspaper publishes “nothing happened today” on its front page.
Does that mean those untrustworthy journalists invent news? Not quite…
One of the questions I get asked a lot is “where do you find stories?”
The answer is anywhere. Everywhere. Public notices, commissioners’ agendas, gossip in the pub, signs in shop windows, posts on Twitter. If it might make a story, you follow it up.
That doesn’t include press releases, which are special cases. If you’ve been sent a press release, so has every other reporter on your patch: and who wants to write a story everybody else has?
That’s why a lot of the time, my advice to people is not to send a press release in the first instance. Pick your outlet (based on its audience and how that matches your needs) and call them. You get to pitch your story before you have to send out the email, and if you do it right it’s far better to have made personal contact.
“Will they use it?” isn’t really the question. It’s “can you sell it?”
5: Your story (probably) isn’t controversial
Most of the recent distrust of journalists comes from politics. Interestingly, Ipsos MORI’s poll found both sides of the Brexit debate felt the media was biased against them.
I’ve seen this on a local level, with politicians decrying the hostile media while audiences complain the media isn’t hostile enough towards government. As an old news editor once told me “if both sides are moaning, you’re doing fine”.
Even if you still felt the media was politically biased, is that enough to put you off promoting your business to its audience?
The truth is that your company’s tale is probably softer news than a front-page splash. That’s part of the reason it’s harder to get published, but it’s also a good reason to try.
Of course, if you’re hacking down trees on a nature reserve to build hundreds of McMansions or enslaving children to pour buckets of radioactive waste into local reservoirs then you’ll probably face an uncomfortable time answering a journalist’s questions.
But in the same way not every journalist is a Street of Shame hack, not every company is an evil corporation only interested in profit, right?
If your business is rarely mentioned in the news, and you’d like to find out how you can change that to produce valuable publicity, our next small business media training course takes place at 4pm on Monday, January 9 at Coffee Exchange on Athol Street in Douglas.
You can click here to book online – or contact us with any questions you may have.