Long term trends see increasing numbers of journalists turning to careers in PR with PRWeek stating that ‘the trickle of journalists moving into PR has become a flood.’ However, bucking the trend, PR-turned-Journalist Gabriella Jozwiak explains why PRs shouldn’t be surprised when Journalists “don’t say thank you, don’t like old fashioned press releases and why it is important for PRs to monitor their competitor’s news”.
Cision: From your perspective, what are the key skills for a freelance journalist?
Gabriella: More than anything, you have to see yourself as a staff journalist. So many people say being freelance is great because it’s flexible and you manage your own time but I’ve always worked longer hours as a freelancer. It’s easy to spend a week writing one feature when you’re on your own but that won’t pay the bills. So you need to set yourself deadlines and targets and monetise the hours you work.
As a staff journalist, you’re regularly exposed to new ideas and products – things you never thought you might be interested in. I never thought I’d be a business journalist but now I’m writing for Payroll World, I’m discovering all sorts of un-mapped territory which is full of juicy stories. It’s easy to slip into the same old sources and story-taps as a freelance, so you have to keep getting out of your contact zone. Call up a company you’ve never heard of or read a random trade magazine – there’s sure to be something undiscovered waiting to be thrust into the national agenda.
You also have to be an ace pitcher. My experience from working in PR is invaluable and I couldn’t care less if people rip my ideas apart or don’t get back to me. The old saying, ‘it’s not you it’s me,’ couldn’t be more true. You have to adapt your ideas, re-write your pitches and keep knocking on another door. You’ll always get something in the end (trust me – this is coming from someone who used to PR a dry cleaning company).
How do you select and identify article topics? Do you follow the commercial reality or your personal interest?
I tend to follow my own interests and get off-diary ideas from contacts. It’s great to work off the news agenda but you’ll have more competition that way. It’s good to create a niche so you can come across as an expert.
Which pitching tips do you have for PR professionals when communicating with freelancers?
I’m not going to say the obvious tips. Here are some that are slightly more particular and since I’ve worked on both sides, I think I have a bit more sympathy for PRs than a lot of journalists.
- There’s nothing worse than a PR that doesn’t understand the content of a press release they’ve sent out. I get plenty of ‘techy’ releases and when I call to get an explanation in plain English, I don’t expect to be met with silence.
- I never understood why journalists didn’t say “thank you” or reply to my emails when I was in PR. Now I’m a journalist, I completely do. The pace is intense and PRs really shouldn’t take offence if they don’t hear back. I would always recommend that a PR gets as much journalistic experience as possible – spend a day in a newsroom if someone will have you. And don’t give up if you don’t get a reply.
- I don’t really like old-fashioned press releases. Why not send a brief email or tweet me? I don’t want to use the same quote on the release that everyone else will – I’d like something fresh that is angled for my readers. I know that’s not always possible, but personalisation goes a long way.
- Strong case studies can be the hardest thing to find. If a PR rings me with a great story but no voice to illustrate it, I might have to turn it down simply because of the time it would take to get the spokespeople together.
- Be aware of what is news. I get approached by people that really have a case study or generally want to talk about their product, but too often there’s nothing new. Or sometimes the story is just too small. It’s a shame when you get something that you’d really like to write, but it’s too local and you know the media won’t bite.
- Monitor what your competitors are doing and don’t send me the same story they had published last week.
- PRs too often think they have to do something to generate a story. Why not just say something? I love reactive and vocal news – people calling for some action or putting-down an injustice. And I hate anyone who “welcomes” anything and sits on a fence. Opinion goes a long way.
You are a member of Women in Journalism (WIJ). How important is this organisation for you? How did you benefit from them in your career to date?
On a practical level, WIJ is a great forum to meet really successful journalists and learn from them. I’ve picked up plenty of tips from events and had a few commissions through contacts I’ve made. It’s been around for years, so there’s a great cross section of old and young journalists from every sector, which means plenty of characters.
WIJ is also a great advocate of positive media practice. I came across WIJ while I was working for the young people’s charity YouthNet. I was managing a campaign to counter negative perceptions of young people in the media, and attended the launch of some research by WIJ on the same subject. WIJ really helped raise the profile of the demonisation of young people in the press and it’s now a well-recognised issue.
How do you see journalism evolving in the future?
I do see it moving more online and although many journalists don’t like it, I do think it’s right to have paywalls. I think it’s crazy that top class journalism is available for free. It’s amazing, but it’s not sustainable and if we’re to get out of this financial crisis in the media and see people paid a fair wage, it has to stop.
My only concern is that as news becomes more on-demand, it will be easier for people to ignore important issues. I buy newspapers because I know I’ll end up reading about something I’ve never considered before, whereas online it’s so easy to stick to the same old pages.
Do you think that mobile journalism will take off?
Yes – it already has. I still think older platforms will exist – there will just be more variety. I’m very excited about what mobile journalism is achieving in emerging markets. That’s where we’ll see its full potential.
For more information on Gabriella, visit her website: www.gabriellajozwiak.com