Building walls between PR, journalists: A worst practice

One of the elements I love about social media is the tearing down of walls. I have an incredible network of contacts on multiple social networks to whom I can reach out in mere minutes.

One of the elements I love about social media is the tearing down of walls. I have an incredible network of contacts on multiple social networks to whom I can reach out in mere minutes. Just this morning, even, I put out an inquiry for this very blog post on Twitter and received about 100 emails within an hour. It's a beautiful thing.

That's not to say that I don't need to reach beyond my network at times to find fresh sources. How boring would it be if I consistently quoted or wrote about people only within my network? So I use services like Help A Reporter Out (HARO) and ProfNet when I need a little extra oomph for a story -- or even have a fledgling idea and want a sanity check.

Enter my confusion when yesterday, I ran across a new-ish service called Reporter's Source, which runs off of pretty much the same premise as HARO. Sources subscribe to a newsletter, journalists send in queries, sources respond to queries. Oh, but there is a catch. Respondents don't get to reach out to the reporter's directly. They get to submit their responses to the folks at Reporter's Source who screen and determine which pitches get back to the journalists.

What?

I find this baffling. Why, in the age of breaking down communication barriers, would you think that a service that builds walls is a good idea? As a blogger and a one-time PR person, I don't want anyone playing god with my content.

One of the things I love about HARO (not so much ProfNet -- it's so daunting), is that I do sometimes get pitches that are left-of-center. I can think of at least three blog posts that have developed from people reaching out with a connected, if not perfect, idea. What's even better is that if I get pitches that are just ridiculous I forward them over to founder Peter Shankman, who takes action, sometimes even banning PR people from the list for violating HARO's terms of service. Speaking of Shankman, I asked him his thoughts about the gatekeeper approach.

Next: HARO and Reporter's Source respond -->

"HARO works on two basic principles: Good karma, and accountability. Fortunately, one truly doesn't work without the other.The good karma aspect is obvious - what I'm doing allows hundreds of thousands of people to reach media and get their message out there in ways never before  possible," Shankman said. "But accountability is just as big a factor - If you're not pitching on topic, and you're not sending the right information to the right people, I hear about it. I give you the tools - you can either become a hero, or hang yourself with them. What you do is up to you. I don't censor you, nor do I believe it to be my job to 'determine' what works for what reporter. HARO is completely transparent. It just works best that way."

I then took a breath and spoke with Reporter's Source co-founder Stephanie Davis (the other co-founder is her mother, who could not be named due to an existing conflicting work contract), to find out more about the service. It didn't really help:

  • Reporter's Source originated after the unnamed mother, a news producer according to Davis, received a complaint about too much off-topic pitching from HARO. Rather than investigating HARO and learning about the service's TOS and really, well, helping the reporter, they decided to start this gatekeeper service.
  • When digging deeper to find out how Reporter's Source compared to ProfNet, specifically, Davis informed me that they are not familiar with ProfNet, and did not "feel the need to figure out this service." Which means, they are not taking note of the market they are in.
  • Reporter's Source plans to monetize through newsletter advertisements, similar to the way that HARO does, yet only has a subscriber base of less than 5K sources and 500 reporters compared to HARO's 75K sources and 25K journalist user base.
  • When yours truly asked for happy reporter references so I could flesh out this article, I was sent a static testimonial and told that Davis did not have time to get me any contacts.

Thankfully, I was able to talk to some other folks to find out what they think of HARO and ProfNet, and even ask some questions about the idea behind Reporter's Source. Here's what I found:

Next: The industry sounds off -->

Journalists: "I always prefer my information raw and unfiltered," Julio Ojeda-Zapata, technology writer at the St. Paul Pioneer Press. "I always use both HARO and ProfNet, and usually get what I need from one, the other, or both. I like HARO's informality, though, and it's Peter Shankman's personality."

"I can kind of see why some people might think (Reporter's Source) would be helpful. There have been times I've received responses that have been way off," said Sally Herships, freelance radio reporter, who frequently produces pieces for NPR. "As irritating as that can be, I don't want someone else screening my responses. You never know when something is going to ring a bell or seem appropriate."

PR Professionals: "I think Reporter's Source is a good idea because it will eliminate the mass amounts of email that journalists receive, not pertaining to their story focus," said Liz Swenton of March Communications. "I'd definitely use a services like this.  It would only encourage PR pros to be more specific about their stories and make sure they are on target."

"I don't see how (Reporter's Source) will ultimately be able to handle such a task, as most queries receive so many replies," said Greg Pitkoff, GRiP Communications LLC. "I'd be pretty unlikely to use such a service, especially as I already have two good sources in ProfNet and HARO and my assumption would be that I'd be too likely not to be seen by the reporter or seen in time using this third service."

"It's bad enough that because of the mass amount of pitches that are received for each opportunity that there is actually a middle man screening some of these out," said Lori Scribner, Scribner Communications. "How does the newsletter editor know exactly what might strike the fancy of that particular reporter, or might be another good angle they should address in their story? I'd say this is a bad idea. I would not use the service. ProfNet and HARO serve my purposes fine right now."

"I actually signed up for Reporters Source, but unsubscribed the next week. I wasn’t very impressed with the queries," said Heather Whaling, Costa DeVault. "Plus, I don't know the people who run the service, so I'm not comfortable sending them information about my clients that they may or may not pass along to reporters. HARO and ProfNet work well because we have direct access to journalists."

Lesson learned?

While there seems to be marginal curiosity over Reporter's Source, it appears that both journalists and PR professionals alike aren't fond of the service's declared "niche." While they do currently have a mild subscriber base, the few people I spoke with who did subscribe stated that they did so out of desperation to find more stories, but haven't yet received any responses or great results. Quite the contrast compared to HARO and ProfNet.

Stop trying to build walls, people. "Ingenuity" should not move the industry backwards.

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