Turn heads and earn headlines: Q&A with NPR’s Steve Drummond
Want to stand out in today’s busy news cycle? Dig into these quick insights from NPR’s Steve Drummond on the media’s changing landscape—plus how to keep the love alive with the press.
Steve Drummond is a senior editor and executive producer at NPR, where leads the education reporting team. A senior editor at NPR for over 20 years, he’s received three Peabody Awards, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award and the Edward R. Murrow Award.
He’s also author of “The Watchdog: How the Truman Committee Battled Corruption and Helped Win World War Two,” which was published this month.
Ahead of his media panel at the June 5-6 PR Daily’s Media Relations Conference in Washington, D.C., we sat with Drummond to everything from how to develop strong relationships with busy journalists to the best ways to spark interest in newsrooms for your news:
What’s the biggest threat to the media today as you see it— and what does that mean to the PR pros who work with busy, harried and even worried reporters today?
There’s a good reason it’s the FIRST amendment — it’s among the most important rights we have as citizens and as a people. That said, the biggest threat today, I would argue, is the disinformation and misinformation flooding the Internet that makes it harder for people to figure out what’s true and what isn’t. These other issues are certainly big, but in my personal opinion this is a major threat.
How can the press earn back public trust amid all this dis/misinformation?
By doing what we’ve always done — cover the news fairly and openly and honestly. Yes that’s harder to do than ever, but that’s what makes it more important to do so.
Are you worried about the potential impact of AI on journalism? If so, how do we respond to that potential threat—what should newsrooms be doing?
I think there’s a lot of speculation right now about AI, and certainly a lot of concerns. Like so many technological advances, it has both the potential to do good and the potential to be disruptive and harmful. As someone who is not an expert on the subject, I think I’ll just have to watch and wait and see how this issue involves.
Shifting to the PR perspective, what’s your advice to media relations professionals about building a trusted relationship with A-list journalists?
Building a trusted relationship is a two-way street. The most helpful thing in my experience is transparency — the willingness to tell the journalist what you can, and to be open and honest about what you can’t or won’t say. The most frustrating, and I think harmful, thing is when information or answers are not forthcoming and there isn’t a good explanation for why.
Do you have any storytelling advice you can share with PR pros?
Well, I’m in radio journalism and the medium is heavily narrative driven. Explaining how a story will affect actual human beings strengthens the story for us tremendously. Of course that doesn’t necessarily mean finding a convenient person to interview — that can help, but it can also seem like spoon-feeding. That said, a real attempt to explain how an initiative, product or program will affect our audience directly is extremely helpful and is something PR pros should also keep in mind whoever they pitch.
OK, digging deeper into that—any additional advice for crafting compelling pitches?
I’d argue that what works best are the same principles that work best for us in telling a story to our audience: Avoid the jargon of your trade or profession, keep the numbers to a minimum, explain how the story affects people and provide the context and background that you know the reporter will need. Often, the best way to craft a compelling pitch is to keep the lanes clear by cutting down on the extraneous or superfluous pitches, so reporters know there’s a good reason when you reach out to them. That way, the pitch doesn’t get buried beneath all the other pitches in our inboxes.
Join Steve Drummond at PR Daily’s Media Relations Conference in Washington, D.C. on June 5 and 6. He’ll speak alongside media and media relations insiders from The Hill, from the U.S. Navy, APCO, Mars Inc., Southwest Airlines, Raytheon, The North Face and more.
Another threat to respect of media is that when a public figure says something false and the media report it, the public that finds out the falsity may blame the media for reporting it, not the public figure who lied.
In a televised town hall meeting, a candidate said America paid almost $200 billion to support Ukraine but our allies together paid only $20 billion. That’s just made up, totally false, but millions may cite it to friends and say “I heard it myself on TV.”
Everyone’s looking for their story and the first part of this interview calls that sentiment out. “It’s a two way street”. We understand reporters get hundreds, if not thousands of pitches but communicating the transparency with us as to why our pitch isn’t needed at this time or the reason why would immensely help reducing the amount of unqualified pitches. Which the latter part of this interview explains how to effectively do that.