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Major journalist research demands careful analysis

A substantial survey into the work of journalists has thrown some useful pointers for the PR industry, however some of the data requires careful consideration rather than rushing to conclusions.

The survey of 2,605 journalists in the UK, France, Germany and the US, focused on research  techniques, workload and attitudes to typical PR activities. It was conducted by PR agency 10Yetis.

I won’t go into detail of the findings here as you can download the full whitepaper of the results from 10Yetis, but instead try to add a little context as from my experience as an ex-journalist and subsequent provider of services to both the media and PR communities.

A couple of things stood out from the survey. One was that some journalists are complaining of PRs and SEOs harassing them to include links in online stories, while at the same time some (28 per cent of US journalists) point out pressure to generate traffic and comments on their stories as the biggest pressure they face in their working day. Both are signs of how the journalist’s role is changing and the latter showing how journalists are becoming masters of their own audience. Another was the finding that 45 per cent of journalists would like to receive pictures initially as a thumbnail goes against perceived wisdom of not bogging pitches down with unnecessary material, but on reflection makes sense as a thumbnail allows journalists to make a very quick assessment of whether a picture is going to be any use.

The survey supported much of the thinking here are DWPub in terms of the feedback we get from journalists as to what PR habits turn them off, such as poor spelling and grammar, lack of contact details on press releases and sending email attachments. Our feedback sadly supports the notion that many PRs do these things and the whitepaper quite rightly says “there is no excuse” for it.

Looking more closely at the analysis in the whitepaper, 10Yetis co-founder Andy Barr made some fairly forthright conclusions from the results on the question of where stories are sourced from. My concern is that because of the way the question was worded and the results presented, you do have to be a bit bit careful about how you draw conclusions.

The question was “How do you source the majority of your stories?”. Now, that is a pretty explicit question, asking the respondent to name a single source that they consider to inspire where most of their stories come from. As with many survey questions, and in particular with this one, you need to bear the question in mind when looking at the results.

For brevity, 10Yetis included only the top four most popular responses in the survey results. That makes sense, but combined with the very specific question “How do you source the majority of your stories?” some of the conclusions drawn perhaps lack some academic rigour.

Firstly, the whitepaper concludes that as 17 per cent of UK journalists cited social media as the source of the majority of their stories, and in the analysis this is presented as a low figure. The whitepaper says “social media platforms are far lower down the list than we would have thought”. Secondly, the whitepaper argues that level of appearance of newswires as an answer to this question supports the argument that “newswires are not the place to get your company or story spotted by credible, mainstream media”.

I think both of these conclusions weaken under closer analysis. The reason why is because of the specifics of the question – “the majority of your stories”, and the context of sources of news in general.

Looking at the latter, when I was studying journalism at the London College of Printing (now known as the London College of Communication), I remember an entire tutorial based on discussing sources of news where we added so many potential sources to a list we managed to fill up an entire whiteboard. There are hundreds of sources of news and this is what makes the journalist’s job so interesting (and challenging).

But if you ask ‘“How do you source the majority of your stories?” you are asking for a single answer that provides the bulk of your stories, therefore you are likely to exclude hundreds of reasonably significant sources and perhaps some that could be more useful to a PR professional than those in the top four.

So, if 17 per cent of UK journalists reckon that social media is the source of the majority of their stories then that is actually a very significant figure. If nearly one in five UK journalists get most of their stories from social media then you have to consider that a strong result, especially as it is likely to be increasing. I am also pretty amazed that the results showed that 18 per cent of UK national press journalists and 15 per cent of German journalists cited newswires as the source of the majority of their stories. I certainly would never expect any self-respecting journalist to cite newswires as the source for the majority of their material. Add to this that outside of ‘own research’, press releases are cited as the most common source (28 per cent in the UK), but it is not clear from the research that any confusion between ‘press releases via newswires’ and ‘press releases received directly’ has been dealt with during the survey process.

To conclude on the newswires matter (even though DWPub runs a SourceWire News Distribution my aim is to be neutral on this), the whitepaper says “stop relying on wires”, but I don’t believe PR professionals should ever have ‘relied on’ wires. As I have said before “distributing on a newswire is not an alternative to good coordinated tactical PR plan but it can reinforce a well thought-out campaign and enhance results”.

Despite questioning just a few of the many conclusions in this post I believe this research from 10Yetis is an impressive achievement and has resulted in a truly useful set of data that I have no doubt PR agency people and in-house PR managers will benefit from. I hope 10Yetis continue to return to it on an annual basis.

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