Matt Shipman, at North Carolina State University, is one of the smartest university science writers that I know. I'm a big fan of his blog, Communication Breakdown, at Scilogs, which consistently takes a thoughtful look at issues in science communication. But I wanted today to call attention to his latest post: "How to Pitch a Story to A Reporter (Without Being Annoying)", which offers some valuable perspective to both his fellow public information officers and to reporters as well.
It starts with what may seem like a basic: Do Your Homework. But then he peels that dictate apart in layers. Homework regarding the scientist, the science, and even the science writer. Regarding the latter, he points out that a little studying up on a journalist can make sure that a PIO is reaching the right writer with the right story:
In fact, I usually ask reporters for guidance on what they’re interested in — but only after I’ve made clear that I have some understanding of their beat. For example, I might know they cover neuroscience, but neuroscience is a pretty big field. What are their particular areas of interest? That said, don’t make it sound like you know nothing about what a reporter covers. That’s a surefire way to get him or her to ignore you.
There's a variety of other good points here. I particularly liked an incisive discussion of how to write a pitch, starting with that single sentence "explaining what the work is and why it’s important", advice that any journalist pitching a story would recognize as fundamental to the craft.
At the end of the post, Shipman encourages both journalists and PIOs to offer their own suggestions. So there's a very interesting comment thread going - as well as the opportunity to join in the conversation.
--- Deborah Blum