I'm grateful to Jenny Zou (@jiejennyzou on twitter) of the Chronicle of Higher Education for her very kind article about my efforts to help my students and other Marist grads find jobs via social media, specifically twitter. I will not rehash what Jenny wrote. You can read Jenny's post in a popular Chronicle blog called WiredCampus.
What I want to discuss here is how this piece came about because it's a lesson in media relations that in itself made news recently because of the issue of "access." First, let me tell you how this article appeared, then I'll mention the controversy surrounding a well-known freelancer for the New York Times and offer a few of my own thoughts. I would appreciate your feedback on this, too, because it is an issue I will discuss with my class next semester.
For 14 of the last 18 years I have attended the College Media Relations Conference, initially started by a gentleman named Art Ciervo, picked up by Keith Moore, and now run by the Council of Independent Colleges and the American Association of State Colleges and Universities. I've had the privilege of speaking at this conference on social media, and it is a wonderful opportunity to network, learn from my peers, and meet reporters from a wide variety of media who come to talk about their publications, blogs, and TV and radio shows. My friend Steve Smith (@RedCladLoon), who is the national news editor at the University of Nebraska at Lincoln, spoke this year on his work in social media and wrote a great blog entry highlighting the various talks at this year's conference.
At one of the sessions, higher ed media reps are given the opportunity to meet with reporters and editors from the Chronicle and InsideHigherEd. As I was heading into the session featuring about a half dozen Chronicle reporters, I bumped into Chronicle Editor Jeffrey Selingo (@jselingo). I have much respect for Jeff and appreciated his comments on my social media work at a PRSA Counselors to Higher Education conference last April. I mentioned to Jeff how one of my students, Alyssa Bronander (@ARBro), had sent me a tweet the day before saying she had not yet been hired. I couldn't understand why because Alyssa is exceedingly bright, knows social media, is an excellent writer, and extremely personable. So, I tweeted my incredulity with the hashtags #HireThisWoman and #HireArbro. In less than five minutes, Alyssa got a tweet from another of my former students, Rob Gedarovich (@rgedarov), whom I mentioned in a previous post, asking for a résumé. Alyssa eventually was hired by Toys R Us and just started this week as te corporation's associate social media manager.
I mentioned this off-the-cuff to Jeff and I honestly did not do it as a pitch. We were just talking. However, Jeff heard a good story, introduced me to Jeff Young (@jryoung), a top tech writer at the Chronicle and for the WiredCampus blog. Jeff assigned the story to Jenny, who spoke with me by phone as I rode Amtrak back to New York. Alyssa and my outstanding student intern this past year, Jim Urso (@JimUrso) also emailed and spoke to Jenny to round out the story. An aside...Jim starts soon in the media relations department at Hofstra University. My thanks to Karla Schuster (@KarlaSchuster) for hiring Jim. I know it's a cliché but it's true -- my loss truly is Karla's gain.
What's so controversial about this process? To me, nothing. However, to the public editor of the New York Times, you would think PR people were like all those corporations that, on their own or via highly-paid lobbyists (many of them former lawmakers) pay for access to politicians in Washington. I have met Times reporters at the College Media Conference every year, and was able to get a piece in a Times blog last year by pitching a reporter who had just completed his presentation.
This process of give-and-take between journalist and public relations professional is common practice and ethical. If you have a good relationship with a reporter -- pitching only those stories that are truly newsworthy, returning phone calls, not limiting yourself to being a "fair weather friend," and maintaining the highest standards of honesty and integrity -- you have a much better chance of getting coverage of your event, product, location, individual, or, in my case, college, than if you do not have a good relationship with that reporter. That's a PR 101 lesson, not "get(ting) too cozy with the P.R. professionals who strive to influence coverage," as the Times' public editor alleges. A journalist and a media relations pro must understand their roles. They are not mutually exclusive. They are similar -- tell a story that is worth people's time, enlightens them, and in some cases, advocates for the common good (though that last point is always open to interpretation).
In the back of my mind I think there must be another reason for the Times to go after David Pogue (@Pogue). Maybe, someday, the Times' PR person will tell us what it is.
One last thing...I'll let you in on a little secret. The second commenter at the end of the WiredCampus post, "mahoneypoststar," is Mark Mahoney, who was a student in a broadcast journalism class I taught at Dutchess Community College about 30 years ago. Mark was a gifted student with a great sense of humor and a way with words. He started out at my old radio stations, WEOK/WPDH in Poughkeepsie. Today, he is the editorial page editor of the Post Star in Glens Falls, NY. Two years ago, he won the Pulitzer Prize for editorial writing. To say I'm proud of him is a dramatic understatement. I offer my thanks to him and to so many of my former students for their words of support and gratitude and retweeting Jenny's WiredCampus post. Their faith, confidence and affection are deeply appreciated. The sense of fulfillment I receive from working with and mentoring them is one of the wonderful aspects of my job, particularly at a college like Marist that truly is a community, or as some say, a family.