Approach pitching a reporter like any business act, with purpose. I gave an updated version of a presentation I’ve given before on how to get your business media attention, with my continuing to evolve thoughts about the process, as an editor and reporter, to a Small Bytes entrepreneurship conference at MIT in February. But the keynote was rapper turned actor Ice T and proved interesting to be sure.
He was funny, smart and, truly, actually fairly insightful. He knew who he was and was playful about that but he had a long life of experience. It made me think about how valuable time-developed wisdom is. Pop culture or not, he had some wonderful stories with practical thoughts.
Maybe the personally most amusing part was that because I spoke right before Ice T, he watched my talk and referenced it a few times, referring to me as “the reporter.” I will smile for years in the future whenever I think of Ice T saying, after I addressed the crowd and told them that the media doesn’t owe anyone any favors: “Like the reporter said, no one gives a fuck about you.”
Though I was expecting to mostly just be amused, instead, I found myself jotting down a few notes worth remembering. Find them below.
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Here is the simplest method I know to receive submissions and fairly execute a randomized lottery for a contest.
Twice now, I have operated a lottery for those who wanted to play a video game on a skyscraper in Philadelphia. In 2013, 1,200 people requested to play pong and this April, more than 1,500 people asked to play Tetris. Fewer than 200 people got to play each year.
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While part of a roundtable on media exposure at a Knight Foundation grantee event last year, an audience question got right to the point of what many organization leaders want from reporters: what will it take for you to cover my work?
The idea is that we in media have a bigger audience and offer an endorsement of legitimacy. Whether or not that’s true, it’s why so many seek any snippet of coverage. It also got me thinking about trying to create some data point to help others outside of this industry understand what it takes to get the attention of a reporter and an editor.
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The difference between weather and climate is a measure of time, weather is in the short term and climate over the long term. It’s the same for your life in any form.
When traveling, when learning about a new community, knowing what is variable and what is constant is invaluable. That is, what is climate — the deep, long trend and narrative of a place — and what is weather — flighty, trivial and wildly variable?
It is challenging but absolutely imperative for understanding a new place or time. A late snow in May in Philadelphia would be a strange weather pattern, not indicative of its general climate. Likewise, when you are trying to learn something, you have to strive to now what is unusual and what is indicative of a trend.
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I work at a startup. Not a tech startup or, to be honest, according to some, any kind of startup at all. I help lead a growing, young, small media business that happens to cover technology companies and startup culture, so I’m around conversations about definitions a lot.
Let me be clear: in this post, I’m using the definition I use for ‘startup,’ meaning a young company testing a business model. I’m writing here about what type of person I’m finding can work best in such an environment, which is different (but neither better, nor worse) than a large corporation or even another smaller, but more stable and more clearly defined, organization.
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Define the mission underpinning the work of your news organization, and then allow yourself to experiment with new and potentially better ways of telling stories.
That’s my interest in finding new innovative storytelling methods, and so I was excited by the chance to share examples with nearly 100 reporters and educators who visited a session I cohosted during a national news innovation conference in Atlanta last week.
Know why you’re doing your coverage and find the method that best creates that outcome. While that may mean a beautiful, highly produced product like the Serengeti Lion web interactive from National Geographic, depicted above, my focus here is sharing low-cost or free ideas for inspiration.
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If you are leading an organization, it seems there are three main speeds you should be going.
- Experimenting — new ideas, creative thought, innovation
- Focusing — paring down the projects and efforts to get to our clear mission
- Executing — moving forward toward that mission
The trouble seems to come when we’re trying to do all of them — or none of them — at the same time. That’s when we get distracted and lose our way.
Staying focused on one of those speeds at a time is more than difficult enough. Now think about being able to cycle through them in the life of an organization when you know you either need new ideas or to find a focus or to make good on that mission. That takes remarkable leadership.
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Organization-wide experiments can often be tougher to launch than learn from or reorient around. Once staff is brought on and workflows established, changing anything may be more challenging than ever launching the project to start. That’s when bold leadership is most needed.
That’s been on my mind recently when I’ve thought about the wonderful progress that has come with NewsWorks.org, the online news home for WHYY, the Philadelphia region’s public media outfit. Let’s look at its three-year history and its future and use it as an example for being bold enough to experiment and then knowing when to act on that experiment.
[Full Disclosure: I have friendships and close relationships with nearly a dozen people at WHYY and also sit on their community advisory board, but, while surely that insight informs my perspective, these conclusions are my own and don't incorporate anything more than what is already public.]
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When you first launch your venture or your organization or group or initiative, you might throw every waking moment you have at it. You log lots of hours, play many roles and simply aim to outlast any competitors. It’s a blind outpouring of time. You start by working longer.
In time, you get to know your needs, strengths and shortcomings better. You add support and focus your efforts. You do a lot of research and plenty of outreach to refine your work. You’re still logging long hours but it comes with greater savvy. You grow by working harder.
It’s here that efforts can go one of two ways. Many will grow in this way, by working hard and simply letting product and chance decide winners and losers. That can work, but the greater goal (and therefore the greater challenge) is to transition once again.
You could begin innovating beyond your origins. You could partner or compete when best suited. You might know well your market differentiation, exploit it and grow it. You succeed by working smarter.
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