If you’re thinking of pitching to me…

PR agents and companies are always approaching journalists with information that they hope will be turned into stories – it’s (part of) what they do. Depending on the situation this may take the form of a mass press release or a more specific and targeted communique.

In my case I write a lot about Technology and Media and so these are the areas I tend to get approached about most, although they’re not the areas I’m exclusively interested in.

If you are approaching me with what you think is a story I’d be interesting in pursuing, here are five (by no means exhaustive) things that are worth keeping in mind:

1) I’m happy to receive a pitch via phone, e-mail, twitter, MSN, Google Talk or face-to-face but I expect it to be made clear that I’m about to receive a pitch from the outset.

2) If you’re pitching something for the tech spot I do for B&F remember it is fortnightly and so is outside of the daily news-cycle. Anything that will be stale (or covered elsewhere) in the immediate future is no good to me.

3) The B&F tech article also has a long lead-in time. The subject is decided a week and a half before the deadline and the deadline is almost a week before it hits the shelves. In other words I need to know well in advance if there’s anything interesting coming down the line that you think might be worth covering.

4) However the B&F tech piece is not the only thing I do. I’m primarily a freelance journalist and I write news stories and features in the areas of technology, media and current affairs. Pitch your relevant stories to me and I’ll let you know if I’m not interested.

5) Don’t tell me how great your new product, service or software is, let me see for myself. Trialling something directly says far more than any spec-sheet or picture ever will (that said high res. pictures are vital if the product is going to be reviewed).

Opening journalism (for better & for worse)

My latest technology piece in Business & Finance has a different ending than usual – it has a link to an mp3 of the interview with Minister Conor Lenihan, conducted for the article itself (which can be found here – although be warned it’s quite long).

Opening up the process of journalism and giving readers additional content like this is, in my opinion, a perfect way to utilise the internet effectively. As a matter of fact I think it’s key to making journalism thrive and survive in the future. That said it’s a daunting venture to undertake.

When you give everyone access to the unedited interview you conducted for a piece, for example, you open yourself up to a lot of criticism.

Suddenly everyone knows the questions you asked and more importantly the ones you didn’t. They can see what you may have let slip and what you did or didn’t pursue aggressively. Some may even find a comment that you didn’t quote in the piece that was more valuable than you realise. It can all be very bruising to the ego.

On the contrary it can be extremely useful to open yourself up to scrutiny like this, not least because much advice can be genuinely constructive. Perhaps more importantly, however, it forces you as a journalist to analyse everything you’re doing as you construct an article and can help you be all the more aware of your weaknesses and flaws before the piece has even gone to print.

Put simply, when people have access to everything you do there is no room for you cutting corners, quoting out of context or getting your facts wrong – unless you want everyone to know that you’re not a good journalist.

The problem is, however, that the journalists who would be willing to open their process up to the world are least likely to be the ones to abuse their position. The people who quote out of context are not going to be in a rush to show their readers what they’re doing.

Equally some interviews or pieces of research material could not be shared, perhaps because they identify an anonymous source or undermine an ongoing investigation.

The idea that journalists may share their research and process where they can is appealing, however, and it’s one I’m sure we’ll see many newspapers making a policy of soon. At the very least it gives readers more confidence in what they are reading and could even encourage journalists to learn from each other in what they do.

Hopefully my contribution to this idea in the latest Business & Finance will not be my last – while it adds a little bit to the workload I think it is more than worth it.