Wire Services are our friends

I attended a Business Wire breakfast event last week on "Working with the Major News Wire Services" and confirmed what I've pretty much figured out over the past few months: Major business publications are primarily looking at electronic coverage to alert them to trends in business and technology.

The wire services were represented by Eric Auchard, chief technology correspondent for Reuters in the Bay Area; Jeff Taylor, SF Bureau chief for Bloomberg News; Rachel Conrad, Silicon Valley correspondent for the Associated Press; Steve Yoder, SF Bureau Chief for the Wall Street Journal; and Alexander Davis, managing editor of MarketWatch.

What was surprising is that no one objected to receiving news releases, nor do they object to being pitched. But there was general agreement that neither news releases nor pitching ever results in coverage. Yoder stated that polls of his own organization's staff revealed that no reporter or editor could remember doing a news story that resulted from getting an email, phone call or press release from any company. But on the flip side, the "vast majority" of stories required the help of a public relations professional to make it happen.

The panel agreed that PR professional help bring awareness of trends as they provide individual spin for their clients. The wire services, 20 years ago use to be something used for filler around the local news. It was a good thing to have, but not necessarily what you wanted to lead your publication with. Today, however, wire services are becoming the gateway to national news coverage. Yoder stated that news in the Wall Street Journal generally gets vetted through the Dow Jones wires, confirmed in AP, Reuters, MarketWatch and Bloomberg, and then researched by the bureau staff before it ever gets into the Wall Street Journal print edition. I'm finding that's true now for most every newspaper. But that awareness is tempered by what the correspondents, bureau chiefs and editors receive through each wire service and …wait for it … Blogs.

Yoder, Davis and Auchard all stated that their correspondents are reading industry blogs daily and they use no standard technology or service for collecting blog information (in other words some use proprietary RSS readers, or those provided by search engines). "Let's face it. Bloggers are often more on top of what is happening than any news organ. If a big news story breaks, it generally breaks on a blog before we see it," Yoder said.

However, Yoder, Conrad and Taylor all agreed that what bloggers do does not necessarily constitute good journalism. They don't check sources and they have an axe to grind more often than not.

Auchard said several of the Reuters correspondents are blogging as well and are encouraged to do so (although there is no particular method to how and when they blog). The upside to that statement is that serious journalists are using blogs to gather insight from industry about the trends.

One of the more ticklish insights from the meeting regarded embargoes. Basic statement: They hate them.

Wire services are working on minute to minute deadlines. By the time they finish doing their research, they have to get the story on the wire ASAP well before most of the embargoes they receive. Why? Because bloggers generally get the juicy-ist information first and are always breaking embargoes, which takes away the newsworthiness of what the wire services do. In today's instantaneous news flow, embargoes have very little meaning anymore.

Also, while all the panelists stated that PR people can contact them directly, they are not necessarily the best person to talk to at the wire service and who would be best depends on who is working on what for when. And just because you have an interesting story to tell to a correspondent at 9 a.m., it doesn't mean that something even better is going to cross the correspondent's desk 30 minutes after you hang up.

Some good advice is that you should take away from all this is:

1. Wire service correspondents are more approachable then their counterparts in print publications.
2. Wire services are a gateway to national and international news coverage.
3. So are blogs.
4. Be flexible and patient. No single pitch, news release or event is going to get you into the Wall Street Journal, New York Times, or even the San Francisco Chronicle. But a steady stream of information from multiple sources will pique the interest of journalists in those publications over a period of time. If enough people start saying the same thing you say, you will become part of a story.