Thank you to Michelle Wheeler for sharing her answers to these FAQs with us.
As anyone who attended the ASC Conference in Brisbane this year knows, there was an awful lot going on. So much so, that even as you grabbed a quick coffee or bite to eat during the breaks, you may have noticed science journalist Michelle Wheeler still hard at work in the ‘Interview Booth’.
This new component was designed to give ASC’ers a chance to sit down with a working science journalist, to discuss ideas they might have for a story, get advice on media releases or simply to ask questions and gain some insight into what today’s journalists are up against when it comes to getting a science story out there.
For those who missed out, here are Michelle’s answers to some of the more frequently asked questions at the booth.
What is a typical day like in a newspaper newsroom?
A day in a newsroom can vary a lot depending on the organisation, the day of the week and whether there is late-breaking news, but here’s an example from one newspaper.
Most journalists arrive between 8am and 10am and immediately start ringing contacts, going through emails and generally checking to see what stories might be around that day. Before 10.30am, journalists brief the chief of staff on what is happening in their round and pitch the stories they are planning to focus on. The chief of staff will give some basic direction on which stories they think should be followed up, how long they should be and whether photographs are needed, and may give journalists stories they have come up with as well.
At 11am the chief of staff goes into a morning news conference with the senior editors to discuss the stories journalists are pursuing that day. The section editors, such as the sport, world and business editors, all report on the main stories they are looking at that day and the editor of the paper will add a few stories he would like looked at as well.
About 2.30pm journalists are required to send “newslist messages” to the chief of staff for each of the stories they are working on for the next day’s paper. These notes contain a mock first sentence for the story and the key points as well as the author, length and whether there are any photographs or graphics to accompany the article. These messages are taken into an afternoon news conference where the editor plans out which stories will go on which pages. This finishes about 4pm, at which point the chief of staff often gives final directions to the journalists about their stories.
The absolute latest a journalist would generally be able to file a story and still make the first edition of the paper is about 7pm, with the earliest copies being printed by 7.30pm. There are later deadlines throughout the night for different editions of the paper to allow for late-breaking news. At any point during the day almost everything planned can go out the window if a huge story breaks.
When is the best time to send a media release?
The best time for most reporters to receive a media release is first thing in the morning, when journalists are calling contacts and looking at what is happening that day. If the release is sent out late in the day it has to be good enough to replace something else for the story to be written because by the next day it is often considered old news.
Should I call journalists to follow up if they haven’t responded to an email release?
This is a point of contention among both journalists and PR professionals and there are going to be plenty of people who disagree with me. As a journalist it is very annoying to constantly receive cold calls from PR officers you don’t know asking why you didn’t call them about a media release for an event totally unrelated to the round you cover. For some reason people organising charity luncheons are particularly bad at this.
On the other hand, it’s great to get calls from media managers you know or have worked with on stories before. Sometimes it’s handy to be able to chat about different angles for new research and even if I know a story isn’t going to run I’ll often ask the media manager about other stories coming up in the future (such as upcoming research or papers and reports due to be published) that I have in my diary.
Be polite – ask if there’s any extra information the journalist needs rather than demanding an explanation for why a story hasn’t been picked up. Don’t call on deadline and don’t get disheartened if journalists don’t always have time to chat.
Should I worry about pictures?
Yes! A fantastic photograph can easily bump a story from page 15 of a newspaper to page three, get it featured online or determine whether the story runs at all. Pictures are particularly important for newspapers in tabloid (compact) format, which the vast majority of major papers in the country now are.
Newspapers will generally choose to take their own photographs if they can but that doesn’t mean they won’t run supplied images occasionally if they are particularly good or of something they couldn’t usually capture themselves. For television it’s worth mentioning any vision opportunities or scientific visualisations you have in the release.