Why Journalists Hate Web-Based Contact Forms (Online Media Outreach, Part 3)

(NOTE: This is part 3 of a a 10-part series. Index to this series.)

In my previous article, I probably made it sound like there is no greater sin in the realm of online media outreach than to neglect to give individual, direct contact information for each of your organization’s press officers.

Well, there is. That deadly sin is to make a journalist’s only means of contacting your organization a web-based form.

Here’s why that’s such a big problem…

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Who Are Your Press Contacts? (Online Media Outreach, Part 2)

(NOTE: This is part 2 of a 10-part series on online media outreach. Index to this series.)

Human contact remains the core of quality journalism, even though most journalists increasingly rely on the internet for their work. Every journalist knows that when you’re on deadline, the best way to get questions answered correctly and fast is to talk to a cooperative and knowledgeable source – that is, a real person, an individual. Therefore, journalists always want to know:

  • Which person (an individual, not a department) to call for which kinds of questions
  • How to reach that person directly

An organization can gain journalists’ goodwill (at least in terms of the working relationship) by demonstrating that it understands and respects journalists’ needs. Specifically, it’s crucial to clearly show that your organization understands that journalists need to talk to real people, and why, and the time pressures involved.

How can you accomplish this? Simple. In your online pressroom, prominently list the names, direct phone and e-mail, and areas of responsibility for each of your press officers. That’s it. No rocket science involved.

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Your Online Pressroom (Online Media Outreach, Part 1)

(NOTE: This is part 1 of a 10-part series on online media outreach. Index to this series.)

Every organization with a web presence should offer a prominent, top-level section labeled Media, Press or News (or that includes those words, such as newsroom).

As I mentioned in the introduction to this series, journalists are always in a hurry. Consequently, they view the web primarily as a time-saving tool. If your site saves journalists time and makes their job easier, they will use your site and keep coming back. If you waste their time online by making them hunt or guess, they’ll probably ignore your site.

Your online pressroom should include your complete (and searchable) archive of press releases, backgrounders, contact info, press kits, and other media-oriented information…

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Online Media Outreach: 10 Ways to Meet Journalists\’ Needs Online

NOTE: This is the introduction and index to a 10-part series.

My multifaceted career includes a fair amount of journalism. As a journalist I do lots of online research.

You wouldn’t believe how often I find myself cringing or slapping my forehead in amazement during the course of this work. It’s sad how many companies, organizations, and institutions still don’t seem to have the first clue about how to effectively reach out to journalists through online media! This includes high-profile outfits as well as miniscule operations.

Journalists are always in a hurry, today more so than ever before. They want to be able to find your organization online easily, go straight to your news, and learn who to contact by phone or e-mail for more info – virtually immediately. Most of the journalists I know get remarkably peeved by web sites and other online operations that waste their time or that make their job more difficult. A peeved journalist can wreak considerable havoc.

If your organization values media coverage and wants to foster good working relationships with journalists, follow these 10 tips:

  1. Create an easy-to-find online pressroom.
  2. Include a complete and current list of individual press contacts.
  3. Never use a web-based form as the sole channel for media contacts.
  4. Include complete, specific contact info on every press release.
  5. Publish press releases on your own site first.
  6. Make it easy to link to your releases.
  7. No PDF press releases, please.
  8. Publish your news by webfeed.
  9. Be smart about e-mailing press releases.
  10. Use good mailing list software.

NEXT: Create an easy-to-find online pressroom

This Week\’s Grab Bag: Oct. 10

Another collection of interesting items that have caught my attention over the past week, sorted by category.

TOP OF THIS WEEK’S LIST: Why can’t a newspaper be more like a blog? This is a brilliant and thankfully blunt series published June 2004 in Barry Parr’s excellent blog MediaSavvy. Here is an index to the series, with a brief excerpt from each article:

  1. RSS: “Newspapers are treating RSS as a threat to their core business. They are desperately afraid of ‘aggregators’ grabbing their headlines and treating them as wire services. …Publishers want you to read their sites because it’s a habit and not because they’re producing must-read journalism.”
  2. Comments: “Newspapers demand registration and acceptance of advertising email as a condition for reading their news, but none use those registrations to create a community [by allowing comments]. It’s hard to find a better example of how newspapers still treat the Web like a broadsheet.”
  3. Archives with permanent URLs: “[Newspapers] don’t understand that links from interested outsiders add even more value to their news by creating dense and useful meta-information that they couldn’t buy even if they wanted to.”
  4. Trackback: “Until newspapers embrace trackback, they’re not really part of the Web. …If they’re going to succeed on the Web, online newspaper publishers are going to have to let go of the paralyzing fear that somebody, somewhere is going to make a little money from pointing people to their content.”
  5. Community and karma: “The typical newspaper web site’s home page is a roach motel: readers can enter, but they can’t get out, unless they click on an ad. …If newspapers are going to survive, they’re going to have to get local in a hurry. Why is the A section of most newspapers national and international news and the B section local news? That’s backwards. And local news is even more important on the Web. People are going to the local daily for local news. And they should be going there for other links to the community.”
  6. If newspaper Web sites aren’t like blogs, at least they’re not like Fox News: “I’ve been pretty tough on newspapers’ Web sites for the last week or so. But newspapers actually do a pretty good job compared to the typical television broadcaster. …Fox News just redesigned their site, and the result is godawful.”
  7. Conclusion: “News sites have been wringing their hands about whether blogging is journalism and whether newspapers should let their reporters blog. They’re missing the most important point about blogging. Suddenly, millions of their readers now have better-managed web sites that are better integrated with the Web than any online news Web site.”

Read the rest of this week’s grab bag…

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More on Para-Sites: It Happened to Me

Yesterday I wrote about the dangers of allowing domain registrations that you’ve actively used for past projects to expire. Well, today I just realized that it has happened to me. It could happen to anyone who fails to pay attention.

A few years ago I was involved in a venture called Content Exchange. It was very popular and cool, but it just didn’t work out as a business. So my partners and I abandoned the project, took down the site, and eventually allowed the doman registration to lapse.

Well, that last part was a mistake. On July 9, 2004, a guy in Australia claimed that domain (which was legally up for grabs) and has posted a get-rich-quick site there – in other words, a fairly typical para-site

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Preventing \”Para-Sites\” is Cheap and Easy

Those of you who use the internet to prominently feature yourself or your organization, listen up: Don’t ever, EVER let the domain names you actively use expire – even if they were used only for a specific time-limited project. It’s worth an annual financial pittance to hold on to those domains virtually in perpetuity.

Some prominent politicians such as Marilyn Musgrave (the conservative Republican Congressional Representative from Colorado who sponsored the controversial Federal Marriage Amendment, and who is currently seeking re-election) recently learned this lesson the hard way. Their expired domains from previous election campaigns were grabbed and reused by online pornographers. (See this Boulder Daily Camera story)

I kid you not. See Musgrave2002.com. The site’s current content doesn’t exactly jibe with Musgrave’s preferred public image. You’ve been forewarned.

Such domain takeovers are usually not malicious. Online pornographers, sleazy marketers, and other creators of “para-sites” thrive on grabbing domains that already attract traffic – whether residual or accidental. This has even happened to me.

The truly embarassing part of the para-site problem is how inexpensive and easy it is to prevent this sort of after-the-fact online abuse…

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\”Webfeed\” Proliferation

It’s been a while since I checked in on the spread of “webfeed,” the winning non-techie nickname for RSS- and Atom-format feeds, as decided by a contest I held several month ago via this weblog. I’m amazed at how widely this term is being adopted. It’s not yet as popular as RSS feed, but it appears to have gained considerable ground in the court of common usage…

*** UPDATE OCT. 4: This is pretty cool. Neil McIntosh, assistant editor of the UK’s Guardian Unlimited, made this terminology comment today: “…I’m also happy that someone’s noticed GU’s grand new webfeeds, and the fact we’re not calling them XML, or RSS, or anything similarly geeky. Maybe we should license out the shiny new webfeeds icon?”

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