Publish or Pass: Insights from Richmond-Area Journalists

This fall, the Hodges team hosted HodgesCon, an all-day learning event with guest speakers for staff to learn from and engage with. I moderated a morning session with local journalists who shared perspectives on how they cover the news and how to best work with them.

Ian Stewart with VPM, Eric Kolenich with the Richmond Times-Dispatch and Brendan King with CBS-6 joined the Hodges team for a look inside their workdays, how they cover the news and how to best work with them. Some of the insights are highlighted below.

Inboxes are crowded – with PR spam

Just like your inbox, journalists are overloaded with emails. Unfortunately, many of the messages they receive are from larger agencies outside of Richmond that are mass pitching, whether it’s copying and pasting names or blasting emails through databases. One panelist called it “real pitches vs. not-real pitches.”

Ugh. Those not-real pitches are making it harder for PR pros to breakthrough.

If you’re sharing news within the Richmond market, use your subject line to localize and personalize the pitch when possible to signal to the reporter you know their beat.

“One of the main things that helps me as a reporter is if you are pitching something to me, that you’ve read my stuff, and you know, kind of what I cover, even though I cover many different things, but you know enough to know that, hey, this might work for me,” said Stewart.

The pitch: People-first and brevity

Reporters want to highlight how the news is impacting local people and to feature a diversity of voices. How can you offer community voices alongside your story?

Brevity is also key.

“What is the meat of it?,” said Kolenich on how he scans emails and pitches. “What’s the substance here? I would say use the simplest, quickest language you can.”

Journalists are on the go and reading emails on their phones like everyone else. Make your messages easy to read and get to the point quickly.

Moderator tip: Many times, I like to email the pitch to myself and read it from my phone to get a feel for how the recipient will receive a message.

A preference for in-person interviews

“Our station is definitely wanting us to shy away from Zoom calls,” explained King.

When possible, local TV stations are ditching the pandemic-era video platforms and securing interviews in-person for better video and sound quality.

For longer interviews, the print and radio panelists prefer in-person interviews as well, which helps with building rapport and allows for follow-up questions.

Follow-up wisely

Journalists appreciate a follow-up to help ensure they saw an email, but if you’re not hearing back on the second or third try, give it a rest and try another reporter. Following-up a couple days afterwards is usually a good strategy.

Use the phone for urgent and breaking matters, or use discretion based on your relationship with the reporter.

Publish or pass: Don’t take it personally

To finish up the panel, Hodgers shared pitches (in 30-seconds or less) to the panelists for their feedback. The journalists provided insights on why they were interested in a story or not. The requirements of various formats – TV needs more visuals and radio requires more sound, for example – impacted their interest in a story, along with other factors.  

But the most important feedback: Take a pass or lack of response in stride. It’s a busy news cycle and a reporter can’t cover every pitch. Tomorrow is a new day and you can pitch again.  

Cameron McPherson

Cameron builds strategic communication campaigns that increase awareness and build public support. His familiarity with Virginia’s local markets helps clients navigate and understand complex and emerging issues. He frequently assists new companies, restaurants and other organizations launch in the Richmond market through public relations tactics.

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