5 ways your online newsroom alienates reporters

If journalists don’t love your online newsroom, your news isn’t getting picked up. Here are five ways your media shop could be running afoul of writers, editors and producers.

Is your online newsroom a warm and welcoming haven for journalists whose coverage is essential to the success of your company?

Is it an easily navigable, content-rich destination that rewards journalists with the information they seek and reinforces your brand’s reputation for transparency and accessibility?

Otherwise, your online newsroom could be a forbidding media nightmare, a swamp of digital confusion seemingly designed to bedevil any journalists foolish enough to attempt to learn more about your company.

We know that reporters love online newsrooms: Two-thirds of the journalists surveyed by TheNewsMarket admitted they visited a newsroom every week, and one-third visited an online newsroom every day. Yet, some of the country’s largest corporations appear determined to allow their newsrooms—if they can be found at all—to serve as a dumping ground for old press releases, and little else.

Why should your company invest in a high-quality online newsroom? If you don’t provide a digital home for journalists on your site, they’ll seek out less credible information from other sources about you.

Here are five ways to frustrate and annoy any journalist who might try to visit your newsroom:

1. Force them to fill out online contact forms.

Contact forms make it profoundly difficult to contact you, let alone figure out what you do and what customers you serve. In fact, you’re going to force them to email your request via a mysterious email address, leaving them helplessly praying that someone, anyone, reads it before their deadline passes.

It’s strange that as the news cycle for journalists gets faster and faster, the trend in newsrooms appears to be forcing the media to slow down to a crawl so they can email an anonymous media contact who may, or may not, respond.

An increasing number of newsrooms (such as this one from H&R block) don’t provide a human media contact, but rather ask that journalists email, call an anonymous phone number or—worst of all—fill out a form and submit it. Make a journalist happy by stripping out the contact form or anonymous email address and add a name and direct phone number of a media relations professional.

2. Bury your newsroom where journalists can’t find it.

If you want to irritate reporters, force them to play “Where’s Waldo” on your website to figure out where you’ve hidden your online newsroom.

It’s rare to find a major corporate website that has a clickable newsroom button on the top navigation bar where it can be easily found.  It is typically buried in the footer within the About Us section. At other times, the newsroom button is invisible unless you know where to look.

Given how valuable the newsroom can be, why not proudly display it on your home page for all to see?

3. Only offer logos, podcasts, video clips, images and previous media coverage.

Want to inflame a journalist? Restrict the contents of your newsroom to pdfs of press releases—the older the better—so that your most important content is not at the reporter’s fingertips.

Your PR staff can become publishers of “brand journalism”– filling your newsroom with multi-media content, high-res images and video, a downloadable FAQ fact sheet or company timeline. “It’s invaluable if background materials such as fact sheets, recent announcements, and photos are readily available online,” says Thomas Kupper, assistant managing editor for business news at the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

“Pictures often boost readership for a story online and having background information available reduces the need to waste people’s time with basic questions in interviews.” Eighty percent of journalists responding to a recent NewsMarket survey said that downloadable video clips and images provided by brands was useful for their reporting.

Five years ago, most newsrooms catered to one audience—journalists—and chiefly served as repositories for news releases. Today, your web analytics will reveal that your newsroom is frequented by influencers, referral sources, regulators, investors, distributors, wholesalers, retailers and even your own employees.

4. Make your PR team hard to identify.

Journalists like to build an ongoing relationship with a PR or corporate communications person. If you want to annoy media pros, keep the name of your PR person a secret on your newsroom.

“In the digital age, we’re always trying to move as quickly as possible,” says Kupper. “Especially with smaller companies we haven’t covered before, it’s obviously a huge help if it’s easy to figure out who the PR contacts are and to get ahold of them right away.”

The best online newsrooms identify the name of your company’s media contact and provide that person’s direct phone line and/or cell phone and his or her email address, along with a headshot so the media know who they’re dealing with.

Even better, do as HealthPartners has done and identify precisely which of your company’s brands or service areas for which each media contact is responsible. Also, check out how Hazelden prominently offers its spokesperson to the media and then identifies its thought leaders for interviews.

5. Make your newsroom unresponsive on mobile devices.

When a producer, editor or news writer brings up your online newsroom on their iPhone or iPad, you have an ideal opportunity to thwart them. Al you have to do is neglect to optimize your newsroom for mobile devices.

Accompany any working journalist today and you’ll discover they’re monitoring their mobile phone or tablet 24/7. However, many corporate newsrooms on a phone or tablet offer crushed text. Sometimes media contacts vanish from view. If your news releases are archived as pdfs, they may not read well on a reporter’s iPhone or iPad.

As best practice examples, PR Daily recently chose some of the best corporate newsrooms on mobile, particularly praising CocaCola, Cisco and H & R Block for ease of use on a cell phone.

Check their newsrooms out on a cell phone to see if your efforts stack up.

Paul Maccabee is president at Minneapolis-based Maccabee, a strategic public relations and online marketing agency. A version of this article first appeared on the Maccabee blog.

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