By George S. McQuade III
West Coast Bureau Chief
While they did not agree on the economy getting better or bottoming out all of newspaper business editors, weekly business editors and trade panelists said, “email pitches are best” for PR pros and they do accept news releases. The PRSA-LA and LA Area Chamber of Commerce sponsored media workshop this week (Wed., 8-12-09) included editors and reporters from some of the most influential SoCal publications.
Since the recession and economy is top of mind in every industry, some of the questions that surfaced at the workshop included: “Do you want the glimmer of hope pitches or just the bad news? And what is the next big story in business or banking news?”
“Breaking news is a premium, and everyone is doing it,” said Business Editor John Corrigan, Los Angeles Times. “We are interested in the economy, recovery, but we are also interested in many other issues. We’re also interested in the digital revolution, the social networking; we’re interested in how people are saving money more now and how they are changing their purchasing habits. We are definitely interested in health care and health care reform. We try to have a mix of stories everyday on different issues. Clearly the overall economy is a big story, but there are a lot other good stories out there.”
“If you have experts, who are willing to talk about something like the Bernie Madoff fraud case, we want to know, because often times our stories end up on A-1,” said Corrigan. “We often will get emails from law firms or publicist representing them saying we have a former SEC attorney or a white collar crime expert who can offer guidance, which is really helpful to a reporter on deadline.” Corrigan prefers email pitches and admitted that heavy and top emails might influence stories covered and its placement.
The Times has two reporters dedicated to writing breaking news in the morning. If it is company earnings, “a short story will be posted Online right away and longer story follows,” he said. “The workload has gotten harder, because reporters are writing one version for the web and another for print most of the time. A lot of our stories end up on A-1, because the economy is so important.”
The Los Angeles Daily News is looking for recovery and glimmer of hope stories according to longtime Business Editor Greg Wilcox. “I newsroom works a little differently than the Times, especially in the Business section. Years ago we used to have reporters on various beats. Today, we have an assistant city editor, who’s in charge of business, and then we have the business staff and that’s me.”
“Everyone knows what tough times it has been, and our paper has gone through some changes,” explained Wilcox. “We don’t have stand alone business section anymore. We have one page or sometimes a page and half. Best way to pitch is to send an email, but follow up phone calls don’t really help, especially when you do the whole pitch in a phone call and leave the phone number at the back end. Since I am the only business editor I’m really busy focusing on local news stories that impact the San Fernando Valley (two million residents). We do some trend pieces, but now the size of the paper and the size of the staff that’s gotten harder to do.”
American Banker Reporter Kate Berry said, “I doesn’t know if there is a glimmer of hope” and contends it will get worse before it gets better adding, “Sources from the mortgage industry and banking dispute that. The next big story is how all the banks are going to take the losses on foreclosures coming down the road. If you ad up the loss for each foreclosure, they would then have to go back to the government for another bailout.”
Berry later said she is open to all story ideas to hear what people have to say. “It is completely unrealistic for a reporter on deadline to engage new sources who are being pitched to you by a PR person, because you’re not going to use them. You just go to the sources, who are specific to that area,” she said. Berry advised that it is a good idea to send early on that you have a great source in say “receivership” and it would be for a big story coming up. “As a trade publication we march to different drummer, we cover stories newspapers may not care about, but the industry does. It is mostly national news.”
“We used to have an editor and four staff reporters at the Business Press,” said Chris H. Sieroty, a contributing writer. “Now it is an editor, researcher and four contributing writers due to the economy, the staff is cut out and they’re all considered contributors.”
Sieroty writes about real estate, government and politics for Riverside and San Bernadino County areas. For example he is currently “working on a foreign trade piece that Riverside County is trying to fund its respective trade zone and they are having an argument with Washington DC over who should pay for it.” He prefers email pitches.
Sierorty, who has been at the Business Press weekly for five years said they operate much like a daily newspaper with the Internet. “My day starts at 5:30 a.m., because I am talking to an editor at another publication in Washington DC. In terms of the Business Press I start reading press releases sent to me at 6:00 a.m. We do enjoy receiving them, especially when they come from real estate agencies about transactions taking place. I am always open (to PR Pros) phone calls and emails telling me about your business and clients,” he said. “I can’t promise I will write about it, but I will listen and maybe keep your contact for a future story down the road.”
Los Angeles Business Journal (LABJ), which has nine reporters covering various business beats and prefers LA County stories, but will consider companies out of state doing business here. Staff Reporter Rick Clough, Los Angeles Business Journal told the standing room only crowd, “Most of our stories come from reporters pitching on Tuesday for a two weeks in advance, except when one of our four editors notices a trend. Our deadlines are on Thursday for the following week’s issue.” LABJ has a web editor, whose day begins at 7:00 a.m. and often breaking news is done on the web. We are open to pitches, and email is the best way to do it. “For a paper like ours that has a fairly rigid structure with a lot of regular features, there are lots of different types of stories each reporter will do. Most of the pitches I get are profile or publicists gunning for that 1,000 a word front page story. However, it is great to get pitches for those special sections, so if you are familiar with the LABJ, and say this story would make a good feature for that section it would really get my attention.”
The San Fernando Valley Business Journal, although the smallest among the publications represented cover a wide area of Los Angeles County according Staff Report Mark Madler. They have an editor and three full time reporters. “My day starts at 8:30 a.m. and lasts until 6:00 p.m. “I do take story ideas from press releases, but generally come up with my own story ideas from sources I’ve developed. I do prefer email pitches,” he said. Writer emails: John.Corrgan@latimes.com;Greg.Wilcox@dailynews.com;Kate.Berry@sourcemedia.com;Rclough@labusinessjournal.com;firstname.lastname@example.org andMMadler@sfvbj.com;