Stories by DeanRotbart DeanRotbart

PR column

PR is like customer service — it’s in your interest to do it right

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It’s a ritual I witness at least once every week as I go about lining up guests for the various radio programs that I produce, including “Business Unconventional,” “Monday Morning Radio” and “Radio Chavura.”

A company or organization issues a national news release, hoping to draw attention to itself.  The release may be designed primarily to bolster the SEO results attained by the issuer, although I assume that most companies that pay to distribute news releases are still hoping to get free media coverage from mainstream news outlets.

That’s what I offer.  Free media coverage in a quality broadcast news program with a dedicated and growing audience.

I never went to PR school, but I’d think that those who bother to issue such releases would be thrilled to hear from a mainstream journalist pursuing a real, positive article – or in my case, a broadcast interview.

Think again.

Although I don’t keep formal statistics on the results of my outbound calls, I would guess that roughly 50 percent of the time when a release does catch my attention, the “contact” person listed on the paid news release is not available when I call.  That is particularly vexing, since I typically phone on the same day, and often within minutes, of when the news release crosses the public relations newswire.

Perhaps some of these folks can explain their absence (if I could ever actually reach them) and the reasoning for being so generally lackadaisical. If you’re going to issue a national news release on a given day, why not actually be at your desk to respond to media inquiries – if you’re lucky enough to receive some?

I would recommend eating at your desk on any day you also issue a news release and rescheduling outside meetings for a different day.  When the phone rings – if the phone rings – answer it, for gosh sakes!

I call (opportunity) – but when no one live answers or promptly returns my message, I knock on the next door.

I do, in fact, regularly leave voice messages explaining that I’m calling in response to “your” news release and would be grateful if someone would get back to me.

Many never do.

Perhaps equally irritating – and irrational from my perspective – are those people who I do reach and seem anything but eager to hear from me.

Let me get this straight.  Your company pays good, hard-earned money to try and bait a mainstream journalist to bite on your story.  I come along and do just that.

Shouldn’t you be a least a tad warm, grateful and accommodating?

Some PR folks are.  But many treat my call as an annoyance – often grilling me about the nature of my news programs and then asking me to put what I’ve just said in writing and email it to them.

What?

You knocked at my door. Then, when I answer and invite you in, you want to turn the tables on me and have me sell myself to you?

I probably sound whinny.  Which is a shame because that isn’t my intent.  I never mind explaining who I am and what I do – especially to a friendly company representative who doesn’t know me or my radio stations (I produce for more than one outlet.)

But really, I’m like most journalists, I simply don’t have time to put everything “in writing” – especially after I’ve just explained it in detail by phone.

Typically, I simply move on.  I know – and this is the ace up my sleeve – that there are far more companies who would be delighted to receive the kind of free, third-party, credible exposure that I provide than there are news organizations and journalists breaking down the door of those companies and individuals who resort to news releases to promote themselves.

So here’s my advice.  The next time you issue a release, stick around to answer the phone – should it actually ring.  And be nice.  It’s okay to ask questions, but nix the suspicious tone.  And please, please, try to remember.  You’re the seller.  We are the customers.  Treat your customers exceptionally well and we’ll be loyal.

Treat us poorly and there are plenty of other venues where we journalists can browse for our news and features.

As Featured On

The power of “after,” a common communications blindspot

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The news media are so ephemeral.

I know firsthand, having produced and co-hosted a fresh one-hour radio business newsmagazine each week for the past year plus.

My show, “Business Unconventional,” is broadcast Sunday mornings on 710 KNUS AM in Denver.  KNUS, a Salem Communications station, employs a news/talk format that attracts Colorado’s largest audience of listeners with a disposable income of $100,000 a year and above.

Recognizing a need to examine the issues facing the small businesses and entrepreneurs who drive our state’s economy, each week my Business Unconventional co-host David Biondo and I feature three or four regional business owners and prominent experts.

Our interviews are insightful – if I do say so myself – permitting guests to showcase their accomplishments, while asking them to share their hard-earned lessons of success (and failure) with listeners.  Our audience, we believe, consists mainly of fellow owners, inventors, and self-employed professionals.

The ratings for “Business Unconventional” have been steadily building and month after month we set records for the number of online listeners. Indeed, although a local program, our reach is actually global, thanks to our show’s simultaneous availability as streaming Internet audio; our presence on the Apple iTunes store; and the strategic “private label” repurposing of our content* to reach select groups of small business owners.

Yet most of our guests fail to comprehend that appearing on “Business Unconventional” – at least from a public relations standpoint – is the least potentially productive aspect of the media exposure opportunity that we create.

Indeed, the opportunity to leverage an appearance on our program knocks and knocks and knocks.  But most of our guests never take real advantage of it.

Granted, when it comes to influence and reach, “Business Unconventional” is not CNBC or Fox Business, nor is it a front-page story in The Wall Street Journal nor the cover of Bloomberg Businessweek.

But the core lesson here is very much the same for communications strategists representing every size company interacting with any size media outlet: “After” is often much more important than “During.”

The effective lifespan of any media coverage – both broadcast and print – is incredibly brief.

To illustrate my point, let’s do a thought experiment involving “60 Minutes,” which since 1968 has been the premiere television newsmagazine, drawing huge audiences.

It’s quite a coup to be a featured expert on “60 Minutes” — far better, indeed, than to be the target of one of its investigative probes.

So…. Name me five Wall Street analysts or independent Defense Department experts or foreign policy observers or medical researchers or popular culture pundits who have been interviewed in the past couple years on “60 Minutes”?  Four? Two? Just one?

The Monday after Business Unconventional airs here in Colorado, many of our featured guests get a few calls from friends, family and colleagues who caught their interviews driving to-and-fro or while working around the house.  Our Sunday guests may even hear from a few prospective customers or clients.

By Tuesday, the call count is down to one or two.  By Wednesday – zero.

People, even when they do listen to a news broadcast or read a feature story in print or online, are only paying the most casual attention to the “performers” on the “stage.”

Readers and viewers can well remember the general plot line of the news they just consumed hours later – but seldom can recall much detail about the peripheral characters who were featured.  Recall worsens measurably with each passing day.

Thus, as experience has taught me well, the genuine benefit of getting positive media coverage is not the instant exposure it provides.  Rather, it’s in the “after” market and what opportunities are presented there.  These are opportunities that too often are squandered by those who think that just appearing on “60 Minutes,” or on “Business Unconventional,” is visibility enough.

It’s decidedly not.

When “60 Minutes” or “Business Unconventional” broadcast our weekly newsmagazines, we determine the editorial menu. Our hope is that we can present a content buffet that is palatable enough to keep viewers and listeners coming back regularly to learn what else we will cook up.

But we set the agenda.

Far more powerful, from a communications standpoint, is the listener or viewer who is on the hunt for information – about a specific topic, specialty or individual – who in the course of an Internet search happens upon a guest who was featured on “60 Minutes.”:

Looking to hire a company that is an expert on asbestos removal?  Hmmmm.  Let’s see, on the first page of the organic search engine results you spot eight area companies.

But wait, one of them, ACME Asbestos Removal, was interviewed on “60 Minutes” by Steve Kroft, who called the company’s owner an “expert.”

That is the “after” market – and it is far more powerful and has a much larger impact in producing new customers and leads than the original appearance on “60 Minutes” – or even (if your budget allows) advertising on the CBS mainstay.

Of the 200 or so companies we’ve showcased to date on our local radio news magazine, “Business Unconventional,” I doubt that more than 25 percent of them even mention their radio appearance anywhere on their websites.

What a missed opportunity.

To be fair, many of the companies we feature don’t have the advantage of a full-time public relations employee or the use of a quality outside agency.  But believe me, plenty of our guests avail themselves of both resources and still fumble the chance when it comes to leveraging the “after” market.

There is no “after” market set of instructions that will fit each company and every circumstance.  But this is my 8-Step Guide to reaping the plentiful rewards of the media “after” market.

  1. If the story is positive (or even neutral), always link to it from your company website.
  2. If you already get plenty of positive media coverage, establish your own website page dedicated to showcasing the stories about you or stories in which you’ve been quoted.
  3. If you are seldom, if ever, the subject of positive media coverage – or if the coverage is particularly impressive – showcase it on the homepage of your website.  See the “As Featured On Business Unconventional” logo that our program makes available to our guests.
  4. If you or members of your team have blogs, post a note about the positive media coverage you received.  And be certain to provide a link to the news organization’s page featuring your story.
  5. If the coverage is particularly impressive – either because it is so positive or because it comes from such an authoritative news source – issue a news release about the story.This helps doubly with search engine optimization. Now, in addition to the original story (presumably posted online by the news organization itself), your website and blogs also point to the story, and with a news release, more and more sites will point to it.When a prospective customer searches online for “Asbestos removal Denver,” your company is far more likely to surface high in the organic search results.
  6. Tweet it.  Post it on Facebook.  Pin it on Pinterest.  Harness all your social networking assets. [If you’re not already using social media sites to market yourself, this is a good reason to begin.]
  7. Email an alert about your media coverage to all customers and prospects.  If you already have a company/product e-newsletter, regularly feature your media coverage in it.
  8. Wear it proudly.  If my company was positively profiled by “60 Minutes,” or even by “Business Unconventional,” I’d take note of it on my business cards.  I might even wear a lapel button to all my business meetings featuring the “60 Minutes” logo.  (Inevitably, people will ask “why,” allowing me to spread the coverage message person-to-person.)

A vast amount of effort is expended in this country seeking to place guests on broadcast news programs and experts in print and online news outlets.  The wisest among us, however, know that our work has only begun the day after we succeed.

 * Some Business Unconventional segments are available online as Monday Morning Radio  (www.MondayMorningRadio.com), which is produced in cooperation with the non-profit Wizard Academy in Austin, Texas.  The Wizard Academy community comprises 45,000-plus business owners, executives and creative consultants.

rievalesonsky-2011

Lesonsky took an Entrepreneurial-like gamble on covering small businesses

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The small business beat was quite tiny when Rieva Lesonsky first began researching it professionally in 1978.

Like so many women who came after her – both in journalism and in business – the odds of her succeeding on such an untested employment path weren’t great.

Yet Lesonsky, during a career at Entrepreneur magazine that spanned 26 years, built her personal journalism stature and that of the entrepreneurial beat from a newsroom backwater to a front-and-center topic.

Indeed, the mantra of both presidential candidates this year was support of America’s small businesses and their owners.

From her home in Irvine, Calif., where she runs her virtual office, Lesonsky, 60, can only smile.  She is not only that rare journalist who gets the chance to define a beat and watch it become mainstream, she has successfully navigated that other frequent journalism obstacle course: To do it, not just report on it.

For the past 4 ½ years, Lesonsky and two of her former Entrepreneur editorial colleagues have put their money where their laptops are: into creating their own small business rooted in their journalism expertise.

“When you cover entrepreneurs for that long, someday you just say to yourself, ‘I can sit on the sidelines and observe it, or I can live it.  I can be it,’” Lesonsky tells me during an hour-long radio interview that she and I recently conducted.

Lesonsky is the founder and CEO of GrowBiz Media, a custom content company that provides news, features and how-to articles aimed at small business owners and entrepreneurs. GrowBiz Media’s clients are frequently giant companies, such as AT&T, American Express, Dell, HP, Microsoft and State Farm. These companies turn to GrowBiz Media in search of quality content that will help them better connect with the small business community.

Among other editorial services, Lesonsky and her colleagues generate blog content, newsletters, web articles and the like.  They also operate their own small business-oriented website at www.SmallBizDaily.com.

Recent headlined stories by GrowBiz Media include: “What Fears are Holding Your Small Business Back?”; “Women Entrepreneurs Helping Other Women Succeed”; “Are Older Workers Better for Your Small Business?”’ and “Hiring Temporary Employees? Read This First!”

Back when Lesonsky was still senior vice president and editorial director at Entrepreneur magazine, she was selected as a recipient of the 2003 Business News Luminary Award – an annual honors program that functions akin to a “Business Journalism Hall of Fame.”

As my bimonthly media newsletter, TJFR Business News Reporter, noted at the time, Lesonsky “has the distinction of being one of the only women ever to hold a top editor spot at a business publication.”

That distinction holds to this day, although there are some newsroom leaders, such as Gillian Tett at the Financial Times (assistant editor and former U.S. managing editor) and Joanne Lipman, who ran the now-defunct Portfolio magazine, who have risen above the glass ceiling.

Lesonsky – based on the West Coast, focused on small business, and looking at the world from a woman’s point of view – has always brought an unconventional editorial perspective to her work.  Her timing, as she notes, was excellent, given how many other women were just joining the ranks of small business owners and entrepreneurs.

Back in 1990, three years after Lesonsky assumed the editorial helm at Entrepreneur, the magazine had a circulation of 300,000.  Under Lesonsky’s leadership, the number of subscribers almost doubled (and has remained roughly the same since she left).

Lesonsky says that one of the biggest challenges of running her own business is working outside the give-and-take dynamic of a traditional, fully staffed newsroom.

“I think that’s a hard adjustment going from an office environment to more of an entrepreneurial endeavor,” she observes.  “It can be really crazily isolating.”

Like Lesonsky, her two partners in GrowBiz Media also work from their homes.  Maria Valdez Haubrich, whose title at GrowBiz Media is chief liaison officer, is a former executive editor at Entrepreneur, where she worked for two decades.  Karen Axelton, chief content office, likewise, was a 20-plus year Entrepreneur staffer and one-time executive editor.

When Lesonsky is not on the job or traveling for work (if ever), she tells me she welcomes the chance to get lost in a good work of fiction or serving as the “designated shopper” for her close friends who are raising tween girls.

Lesonsky, a New York native, says she went into journalism in the hope of changing the world.  First at Entrepreneur, and now at GrowBiz Media, Lesonsky is living that dream.

“We took the world of small business and words, essentially, and crafted a business out of it,” Lesonsky explains.  “So I get to do everything that I love with people that I love, my partners … and do it the way I want to do it.  And it’s just really been terrific.”

If you’d like to download or steam my full broadcast radio interview with Rieva, you can find it at www.MondayMorningMemo.com.  The audio is already one of the most popular that I’ve posted, since I began audio-blogging my weekly program in June 2012.

Look for daily updates about influential journalists on Twitter: @newsbios.

lipschutz__neal_1008

Dow Jones Newswires’ Lipschutz stair-stepped his way to the top

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It is a bit ironic that unlike his counterparts at rivals Thomson Reuters and Bloomberg News, the managing editor of Dow Jones Newswires never worked as a regular reporter or editor at The Wall Street Journal.

Neal S. Lipschutz, who since January 2007 has overseen all of the editorial operations of the burgeoning Dow Jones & Co, electronic news unit, first joined the company in 1982 as a copyreader and then stair-stepped his way to the top of the masthead, and now also carries the title of senior vice president.

While his byline has appeared periodically in the print edition of the Journal, Lipschutz was never actually on staff there.

The dedicated news staff of Dow Jones Newswires is smaller than that of either Reuters or Bloomberg News.  But Lipschutz’s team of reporters and editors still number about 800, spread throughout bureaus in the Americas, Europe and Asia.  Plus, many Journal reporters nowadays do double duty filing dispatches for DJN.

While the Journal’s readership is large and diverse, subscribers to DJN’s various news services typically are full-time, professional investors, money managers, traders and other professionals who pay thousands, even tens of thousands of dollars annually for DJN’s specialized brand of financial news and data.  DJN is a healthy profit center for Dow Jones.

Although Lipschutz, who turned 56 years old this week, is not as well known publicly as Bloomberg’s Matthew Winkler or Reuters’s Stephen J. Adler, Lipschutz is a major force in American and global financial news and easily one of NewsBios’s 100 Most Influential Business and Financial Journalists for 2012.

Increasingly, under the ownership of News Corp. – which acquired Dow Jones & Co. in December 2007 — all the DJN news brands have more closely coordinated their coverage and integrated their staff with The Journal.  Indeed, the lines between the print and electronic editions of the Journal and DJN are more blurred than ever under News Corp.,which has only increased Lipschutz’s influence during the past five years.

With Lipschutz’s guidance, in 2011, the company launched DJ FX Trader, a major news and data product that provides wall-to-wall coverage of the foreign exchange market.

Unlike competitors Winkler, 56, and Adler, 57, Lipschutz has chosen to operate as a kind of player-coach at DJN, appearing frequently in streaming videos on WSJ.com, blogging and writing a news analysis column, “Point of View” that is distributed electronically.

The column was nominated for a 2011 Gerald Loeb Award for Distinguished Business and Financial Journalism, although Lipschutz was not selected as a finalist.

Stephen Wisnefski, senior editor for the Americas at DJN, wrote the Loeb nomination letter on his boss’s behalf. In the letter, Wisnefski noted that Lipschutz’s articles “provided clear insight… [were] published multiple times a week… within an hour of significant developments… [were] timely, to-the-point and free of gratuitous opinion.” Lipschutz was commended for taking “an unconventional angle” to whatever he reported on. At one point, according to the nomination letter, Lipschutz “logically built a case that industrialized nations would need to raise the age at which their citizens retire… ahead of a G-20 meeting, when the issue was on the front-burner.”  Wisnefski did not mention in his nomination letter that he reports to Lipschutz.

In his columns, Lipschutz has called on the Federal Reserve to hold open and frequent press conferences, which Lipschutz said would “help demystify the Fed and make it more democratic… [and increase] the Fed’s standing with the public.” In an attempt to encourage the Federal Reserve to be more open, Lipschutz wrote, “If you wind up in Rome, do as the Romans do. Find a lectern and state your case. Take on questions and defend your positions. Get your sound bites distributed far and wide.”

Lipschutz has spent a great deal of time writing about the Federal Reserve. In one of his Loeb-nominated columns, Lipschutz wrote about the effectiveness of Federal Reserve’s plan to stimulate the economy by buying Treasury bonds. Lipschutz felt that joblessness in this country “may be due to ‘structural’ factors and would thus be immune from monetary policy.”

Lipschutz regularly attends the World Economic Forum in Davos and participates in various industry and professional conferences around the globe.

Lipschutz, himself, has yet to win any significant individual journalism awards during the course of his career, which began in 1978 at the Paper Trade Journal in New York.  At least three times his work has been included in a group of DJN entries that received honors from the Society of American Business Editors and Writers.

Lipschutz, a native of Brooklyn who owns a home in White Plains, is married to Jessica Lipschutz, 59. Jessica is the daughter of the late Boris Yavitz, a former dean of Columbia University’s Business School (1975-1982). Yavitz, who was born in Russia, raised in Israel, and served in the British Navy during World Ware II, died in 2009 at the age of 85.  From 1976 through 1982, he was a director and deputy chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

The couple has three children, Eric, Kenny, and Claire.

Alan Abelson

Barron’s Abelson is one for the record books

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If there were a definitive business journalism Book of Records, Alan Abelson would no doubt dominate some major categories:

  • Longest current tenure as a columnist at a single business/financial news outlet;
  • Sued or the subject of threatened lawsuits by the most number of story subjects;
  • Subject of the largest number of letters to the editor – both complaints and compliments;
  • Most-efficient journalistic financial hot air ‘valve’ – letting the air out of over-inflated egos and stocks.

In other categories, Abelson would rank at or near the top:

  • Role model to other financial columnists and bloggers;
  • Reviled and feared by CEOs;
  • Accused of being in the pocket of short sellers;
  • Contrarian;
  • Razor-like wit.

Abelson, who turns 87 years old this week, is still writing his own legacy – both literally and figuratively.

Once a week, as he has consistently since he originated the “Up and Down Wall Street” investment commentary column for Barron’s National Business and Financial Weekly in 1966, Abelson still labors to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted – all while delivering pithy and polarizing views on business, financial, economic and political news and events, as well as his forecasts for specific industries and stocks.

In early 1966, the Dow Jones Industrial Averages made a run at the 1,000 level – actually surpassing it once on an intra-day basis, but closed short of the mark and ended the year at 785.

In October 1966, when Abelson turned 41, Edward A. Finn Jr., Barron’s current editor and president, was an 11-year-old boy attending elementary school in Whitinsville, Mass.  Finn was only a year old when Abelson first joined the Barron’s staff in 1956.

Abelson became managing editor of Barron’s in 1965 and in December 1981, succeeded Robert M. Bleiberg to become editor of the Dow Jones & Co. tabloid.

One of Abelson’s early hires was a college dropout and former press secretary to, then, Sen. John Durkin (NH-D/1975-1980), named Floyd Norris.  Norris began as a staff writer, who quickly advanced to stock market editor and then author of the magazine’s “The Trader” column.  Norris joined The New York Times in October 1998 and has been its respected chief financial correspondent since September 1999.  Dozens of award-winning business journalists, in the mold of Norris, were also hired or tutored by Abelson.

Abelson’s tenure at the top of the Barron’s masthead lasted 11 years.  In December 1992, at age 67, he was asked by the muckety-mucks at corporate to step down.  The New York Times quoted Andy Zipser, a Barron’s staff writer, speculating that Dow Jones came to view Abelson’s administration as “a rogue operation,” adding that “now there is a new emphasis on team players.”

Initially, the betting was that Abelson would also quit his “Up and Down Wall Street” column and leave the company altogether. But he didn’t and has since penned another roughly 1,080 columns.

[Let the history books record that Ottaway Newspapers scion James H. Ottaway Jr.’s most defining contribution to business journalism in the 20th century was likely the role he played in sacking Abelson.  Ottaway, at the time, was a senior vice president at Dow Jones. He explained Abelson’s departure to the Times, saying “We agreed that since we are about to start a redesign project for Barron’s it was a good time for a new editor to take over.”  Huh?]

I looked up the value of Abelson’s home in Croton on Hudson, N.Y.  If the real estate listings are to be believed, he resides in a rather modest single family residence on a nice chunk of land worth roughly half a million dollars.

I was curious about Abelson’s lifestyle, as I’m guessing that he long ago stopped writing for Barron’s because he needs the paycheck.

His wife, Virginia, who like he attended the University of Iowa, died of cancer in 1999 at age 72.  His daughter, Reed, has been a reporter for The New York Times since 1995.  He also has a son, Justin, who has worked in journalism in Greenfield, Mass.

I suspect Abelson continues to write at his age primarily because he has yet to get the journalism-bug out of his system.  It’s why former Fortune editor Marshall Loeb, now, 83, is still reporting for MarketWatch and why Dan Dorfman, who died this past June at 82, kept churning out copy nearly until the end.

How many of today’s columnists, bloggers and reporters have the Abelson-Loeb-Dorfman genes, I can’t really say.

Perhaps contemporary financial scribes, such as Reuters’s Felix Salmon, Naked Capitalism’s Yves Smith and Infectious Greed’s Paul Kedrosky – each of whom channels the best of Abelson in their writings – will still be tweeting, blogging and tweaking the arrogant well into their eighties too.

Regardless, the brand of financial commentary that Alan Abelson launched in 1966 and has refined over all these years, is certain to endure long after the writer, himself, has typed his final “-30-.”

NewsBios

Ten Twitter ‘tells’: Like browsing through a journalist’s contacts file

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In my (long ago) days as a reporter for The Wall Street Journal, I used to keep a monster steel rotary contact file next to my telephone.

It was my lifeblood.  In it were contained the names and contact information for the vast majority of my sources.  Often, on my source cards, I also noted spouses and kids’ names; perhaps a birth date or anniversary; even a favorite restaurant or bar where my contacts liked to hang out.

I kept personal contact cards in my rotary file as well. Family. Friends. Restaurants (takeout and especially delivery numbers).

No one – and I mean no one – got to peek into my contact file.  For truth, if some public relations or corporate communications executive had been able to study it, s/he would have learned more about me and who had my ear than I would ever be willing to publicly disclose.

And then came Twitter.

While communications executives already follow legions of journalists who have Twitter accounts, the vast majority of journalists simply use the social networking service as a headline service for stories that they or their colleagues have reported.

My NewsBios research colleagues and I do pay attention to what the journalists we track post on Twitter.  It is a convenient one-stop method of knowing who is reporting what.  And some journalists, especially the younger ones, feel at liberty to share their personal lives, opinions and sense of humor with their followers.  That’s a nice bonus when we’re hunting for insights that wouldn’t otherwise surface in their news stories or in their official bios.

But for me and my NewsBios team, who aim to ascertain the rarely seen influences that impact how a journalist reports and how an individual journalist’s personal experiences and biases integrate into their professional lives, nothing beats a thorough analysis of whom the journalists follow on Twitter.

Granted, this is more art than science.  For any single given journalist, reading too much into whom they are tracking on Twitter can be misleading.

But when you look at trends across dozens, even hundreds of journalists – as we do monthly – what emerges is a reasonably accurate picture of the private side of these public reporters, editors and anchors.  Kind of like having the opportunity to browse through a journalist’s contacts file.

Here are the 10 most common personal “tells” we spot when scrutinizing who it is that journalists follow on Twitter:

  1.  Corporate executives at the companies the journalist covers, as well as the analysts, trade groups and university professors who opine on these companies.  Tell: These may not be the journalist’s absolute closest contacts, but they’re highly likely to be among the reporter’s best sources. [If your executives aren’t included here, why not?]
  2. A journalist who tracks some of his/her news competitors – same beat, but not all of his/her competitors.  Tell: These are the rival reporters who the journalist worries about being scooped by the most.  If you place a story with one of these “other” reporters, this journalist will surely take note of it.
  3.  A journalist who follows account executives at public relations firms.  Two Tells: 1.) The journalist values PR professionals more than most of his/her peers, some of who are outright hostile to the PR industry.  2.) The specific PR executives who the journalist follows have a higher placement “batting average” with the journalist than do others. [Again, if your agency isn’t listed here, why not?]
  4. A journalist who selectively follows the accounts of other reporters and editors at the same news organization.  Tell: These follows are members of the journalist’s inner circle.  The journalist either reports to these Twitter account holders, works right alongside them, or has become personal friends with them.  These account holders have disproportionate influence with this journalist.
  5. Twitter account members with the same family name.  Tell: Not only have you identified a spouse, sibling, parent or child, you’ve found one that the journalist is still close to.  Examine these people’s Twitter accounts for additional clues into the journalist’s background and non-newsroom influences.
  6. A journalist, who is not a political reporter, who follows the campaign accounts of either President Obama or Mitt Romney, but not both.  Tell: The journalist’s candidate-of-choice this November.
  7. A journalist who follows: Huffington Post, MSNBC, Rachel Maddow, Jon Stewart, Ezra Klein, Paul Krugman and/or Ed Schultz, but none of the Twitter accounts listed in No. 8 (next).  Tell: Leans to the political left.
  8.  A journalist who follows: Fox News, The Drudge Report, Breitbart.com, Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Michele Malkin and/or James Taranto, but none of the Twitter accounts listed in No. 7 (above).  Tell: Leans to the political right.
  9. Inexplicable Twitter account holders, especially nonprofit groups that serve communities of those who have chronic illnesses or advocate on behalf of lesser-known causes. Tell: Chances are good that the journalist or a close family member has been touched by this illness or has ties to the cause.
  10. Local restaurants, bars, art galleries, retail outlets and salons.  Tell: Take a close look at the journalist’s Twitter photo.  You’re likely to spot the journalist on a recurring basis at these venues, located close either to where the journalist works or lives.
Blumenstein and Paul

Will Natalie Portman portray this WSJ editor?

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The life stories of some influential journalists are just as fascinating as the public figures they chronicle.

As Page One editor of The Wall Street Journal — a post she assumed one year ago — Rebecca Blumenstein covets profiles of men and woman whose personal and professional journeys intrigue, inspire and stand to educate readers.

As it turns out, she needn’t look farther than the living room mirror to spot one such compelling tale.

Indeed, Blumenstein and her husband, Alan Paul, are already the central characters in a popular auto-biographical book, “Big in China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising a Family, Playing the Blues and Becoming a Star in Beijing,” written by the 46-year-old Paul.

Ivan Reitman, the producer and/or director of movie hits including “Animal House,” “Ghostbusters,” “Private Parts,” “Disturbia,” “Up in the Air” and “No Strings Attached,” is developing the tale of the Blumenstein-Paul family sojourn in China into a motion picture.

 (No word yet on which actors will portray Blumenstein and Paul, although Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman did star in Reitman’s “No Strings Attached.”)

In short, “Big in China,” which HarperCollins published in March 2011, is Paul’s humorous and heartwarming account of his time as a trailing spouse who set aside his own career to look after the kids while Blumenstein served three-and-a-half years as the Journal’s China bureau chief from 2005 to 2008.

In 2007, Blumenstein and her colleagues won a Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for their China coverage.

Blumenstein remains one of the paper’s top experts on China, Chinese policy and the Chinese economy.  She and her family returned to the U.S. in late 2008 and she subsequently focused her energies on overseeing the paper’s international news coverage, as well as serving a brief stint as managing editor of WSJ.com

Today, Blumenstein, who turns 46 this week and also carries the title Deputy Managing Editor at the Journal, is – in my opinion, at least – the most influential female editor at the paper.  In her position as Page One editor, she drives the paper’s daily news agenda and shepherds its attention-grabbing features and investigations.

As Robert Thomson, the Journal’s managing editor, noted in announcing Blumenstein’s appointment a year ago, her job is to “ensure that our stories have maximum impact, here and abroad, and across languages and platforms.” Thomson added that Blumenstein will be charged with generating original ideas “and pursue angles beyond the means or wit of our competitors.”

That’s influence.  And consistent with the legacy of some great previous Journal Page One editors – including Alix M. Freedman, Mike Williams, James B. Stewart and Glynn Mapes – Blumenstein’s real role is one that unfolds primarily out-of-public view.

Paul, a musician and longtime senior writer for Guitar World and Slam magazines, began blogging for WSJ.com from China.  In his column, “The Expat Life,” he shared details of his Far East adventure, trying to raise the couple’s three young children, and seeking out meaningful experiences for himself and his family.  (Paul and Blumenstein, both graduates of the University of Michigan, met as student journalists at The Michigan Daily.)

The column proved a hit, which led to the book, which landed him a movie contract and which has launched him on a new career trajectory, one that in public at least is likely to eclipse that of his influential wife.

While Paul was in China, he formed a blues band with three Chinese musicians – Woodie Alan, which found its groove and was named Beijing’s 2008 Band of the Year.

For “The Expat Life,” Paul was named Online Columnist of the Year by the National Society of Newspaper Columnists.  When Beijing hosted the 2008 Olympics, he reported on them for NBC, Sports Illustrated and other media outlets.

Most recently, he has published an eBook, “One Way Out: An Oral History of the Allman Brothers Band,” a group he has closely watched and admired for many years.

Blumenstein and Paul are now, once again, back to their so-called “normal” lives, at home in Maplewood, N.J.  Their eldest child had his Bar Mitzvah in South Orange in June 2011, and for him and his younger brother and sister, China is no doubt a rapidly fading memory.

Blumenstein’s and Paul’s tale is one worthy of a feature film and one that certainly merits front-page coverage in the Wall Street Journal.  If only they knew who to pitch it to.

Sheila Hawkins Harris

The ties that connect Nelson Rockefeller, Henry Luce and the Times’ Gardiner Harris

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The bride, according to news reports, wore an ivory antique-lace blouse and a blue and ivory silk brocade skirt belonging to her maternal grandmother, Elizabeth Roberts Clark.

The groom, a seventh-generation Kentuckian, was an award-winning journalist and editor – a protégé of Henry Luce – the founder of Time, Fortune and Life magazines.

Both bride and groom had been married previously, and among those participating in the service conducted in the bride’s Manhattan home were the groom’s three children, Anne, Crane and Gardiner.

At the time, in March 1979, Gardiner was 15 years old.  He was raised on his dad’s Todd County (Ky.) farm, where he learned to cut and hang tobacco.

It’s hard to imagine what must have been careening through Gardiner’s head on that festive Saturday in the Big Apple – only slightly more than two years since his mother, Sheila Hawkins Harris, died of cancer at age 50.

What a whirlwind experience it must have been to leap from the fields of a Kentucky tobacco farm to the upper echelons of Manhattan society, all while coping with the loss of his mother and the creation of a new, merged family identity.

Gardiner’s new step-mom, Ann R. Roberts, went by and still uses her grandmother’s maiden name.  Ann’s mother, was Mary Clark (Roberts) Rockefeller, wife of Nelson A. Rockefeller, former vice president of the United States and governor of New York State.  Ann’s politician father was a grandson of John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil Co. and progenitor of one of the world’s great family fortunes – worth nearly $200 billion in 2012 dollars.

At the time that Gardiner’s father, T. George Harris, married into the Rockefeller clan, Gardiner’s new step-mom was president of the Rockefeller Family Fund. (Nelson had died only two months earlier.)

Interesting family ties?  No doubt.

But is this background on Gardiner Harris, now 48, and the recently named India correspondent for The New York Times, anyone’s business – especially his readers and story subjects?

For the more than a dozen years that Gardiner covered science, medicine and food for the Times – and prior to that The Wall Street Journal – did anyone of the folks he contacted professionally or those who read his probes of the pharmaceutical industry and public health have a need to know about these aspects of his personal life?

Is their a right to personal privacy on the part of influential journalists, whose job it is – in part – to explore similar possible influences on the lives and actions of public figures, especially those in positions of prominence, such as the CEOs of major corporations and elected officials?

I have found no mention of Gardiner’s family circumstances in his official Times biographies over the years or in promotional materials for his first novel, Hazard, published in 2010.

A 2008 Times “Ask a Reporter” official bio does note that Gardiner was captain of the swimming team at private Trinity (High) School in Manhattan and that he sang in the choir and was active in theater.

Neither Gardiner nor the Times apparently deemed it any of the public’s business that through his father’s marriage, Gardiner’s family circle included some of the largest shareholders in Exxon Mobil Corp., and the owners of a 3,500 acre estate in Westchester, N.Y., on the Hudson River, that includes a 50-room mansion, a private golf course, six swimming pools and 80 miles of trails and carriage roads.

According to The Wall Street Journal, Gardiner’s step-mom – representing the Rockefeller families’ interests – attended and spoke at the May 2009 annual meeting of Exxon Mobil.

In thinking about his mother’s passing when Gardiner was only 13 years old, one might wonder if all the health officials and pharmaceutical executives that Gardiner interviewed prior to his reassignment to India had a clue about who – if anyone – Gardiner blamed for his mother’s death?  Did Gardiner harbor resentment toward the medical establishment? And, even if he did, did it impact his reporting?

Would any different business-health reporter, say one whose middle-class parents are both still living and well, have reported any differently had they – not Gardiner – been assigned to cover the stories he was assigned to chronicle?  If the sources he interviewed had known his family history, would they have treated him any differently?  More openly perhaps?  Less openly?

Who can say?

It feels like being a quasi-Rockefeller would make some difference in how a journalist views everyday topics, such as executive compensation and environmental and health regulation.  Ditto, having such a harsh exposure to the medical establishment at such an impressionable age might color one’s thinking when covering that same establishment as an investigative reporter.

But I’m not a psychiatrist.  I don’t know if such a distinctive background would make Gardiner (or anyone else) more likely to be sympathetic on certain issues or more naturally antagonistic.

In the end, I simply sense that if I were briefing a Fortune 500 CEO who is about to sit for a long interview with Gardner, I would feel I am doing my job more thoroughly if I mention his family history ahead of briefing the CEO on Gardiner’s role on the Trinity swim team.

Speaking of thoroughly briefing a Fortune 500 CEO.  In my next column, I’ll give you a head’s up on why you might remind your executives to avoid disparaging the global-warming crowd on your company’s next high-level visit to Bloomberg News.

Gardiner Harris

Do you know me? A biz journalist unexposed in India

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To what extent, if any, do mainstream journalists owe the public details of their personal lives, when their backgrounds might influence the prism through which the journalists filter the facts at hand?

Would you prepare differently to be interviewed by an influential writer if, for example, you knew that he or she has ties to one of America’s wealthiest family dynasties?  Or that when the journalist was only 13 years old, the future health reporter’s mother died of cancer?

Perhaps, and I say this in all sincerity, it makes no substantive difference.

The journalist – who has been accredited by his or her own news organization and thus is presumptively qualified – will still cover the story.  And the facts won’t change, just because the journalist’s wealthy step-mother is a great granddaughter of John D. Rockefeller, founder of Standard Oil.

In all but the most extreme cases, it is not possible to prove categorically that a journalist’s personal life or upbringing is currently influencing his or her work product.

One theoretical test might be to compare the output of several journalists on the same beat in an effort to detect an otherwise unexplained bias.  But how would we know, even if such a bias is observed, that there is a direct causal link to the journalist’s private life?

The fact that personal journalism bias can’t be empirically measured, however, doesn’t mean we should ignore the phenomenon altogether. When a company’s reputation or market value is on the line, I always believe it prudent for corporate communications executives to study up on any journalist who will be interviewing senior executives – looking for hints of how and why the journalist might perceive the situation at hand differently than other journalists on the same beat.

Case in Point: Gardiner Harris – Business Journalist Abroad

In May of this year, Gardiner Harris, 48, became The New York Times’ new foreign correspondent in India.  Harris, who joined the Times in 2003, previously covered public health, drug and food safety, and the pharmaceutical industry.  On the pharma beat he was a dogged reporter – often investigative in his approach – and unafraid to take on hot-button topics, such as the question of whether there is a link between childhood vaccines and autism.

In a blog post introducing himself upon his arrival in India, Harris acknowledged, “I have an unusual expertise for a foreign correspondent.”

Harris’s background is, indeed, unusual – the likes of which most story subjects in India have very probably never encountered in the form of an American journalist.  Yet the Timesman’s public disclosure of his special qualifications left out a few of his most distinctive circumstances.

“I have been writing about science, medicine and food for more than a dozen years, most recently at The New York Times and before that at The Wall Street Journal, and I plan to continue writing about these subjects while in India.  I have been a business reporter, so India’s economic story is a natural one for me,” he explains.

Harris also notes that this is his first time in India and that he finds the complexity of the country – with its many languages, dialects and distinct cultures – paralyzing.  “I’m fairly religious, and I would love to explore the spiritualism that has made India a destination for pilgrims for thousands of years,” he divulges.

“On a personal basis,” Harris adds, “I’ll be looking for some tennis partners and people who will befriend my wife, an artist, and my two boys.”

Harris pats himself on the back for his revelations, noting: “In the brave new world of journalism, I think there are virtues to openly acknowledging what I don’t know and inviting the reader on the journey of discovery with me.”

What personal information Harris more closely guards – and what doesn’t appear in any “official” bio that I’ve located of the influential business journalist and novelist – I suspect would actually be of much greater interest to those he’ll be meeting and interviewing during his South Asian sojourn.

I’ll acquaint readers with that Gardiner Harris in my next column.

Dean Rotbart

Self-interest is on the job in newsrooms

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Journalists seldom like to talk about how they handle the 800-pound gorilla in the newsroom.  Some deny it even exists.

But whether they walk around it, close their eyes to it, try to tame it, or proudly showcase it, every journalist in every mainstream newsroom is influenced by the presence of his or her own selfish interests and biases.

For the strategic business communications executive, it is vital to ascertain a journalist’s career aspirations and private motivations.  Doing so is certainly as instructive – and I would argue much more essential – than knowing a reporter’s tenure on the job, where s/he attended school, awards won, and positions previously held.

Job survival is self-interest No. 1.

All mainstream journalists – even those at the highest tiers of newsroom management – must navigate the question of what their superiors expect and require of them to remain on the payroll.

How do they measure up versus the competition?

If they are in print, how frequently must they publish?  Cover stories?  Exclusives?  If they are on television or radio, what are their ratings?  For Internet-based journalists, how many times have their reports been viewed?

Such considerations do impact a journalist’s news judgment.  How many potentially “newsworthy” stories have never seen the light of day because a journalist has calculated that such a report – while potentially meaningful to readers or viewers – isn’t the type that will win plaudits from the newsroom brass?

Does a financial columnist ever dare to place a disclaimer such as this on a column?

“I was planning to write on a different topic, but news events overtook me.  So I threw this together at the last minute.  My editor would kill me if I told her I have nothing for her. As such, this column is not as well-thought or researched as most of the work I publish.  Please don’t adjust your investment outlook based on anything I write today.”

Of course, no journalist would risk such naked honesty.  But which financial columnist hasn’t had to scramble to cook up a last-minute editorial omelet?

Heavy-handed editors often revise a journalist’s copy to the point of non-recognition.  Seasoned writers and reporters know how to push back; younger hires often do not.  To keep their jobs, many young journalists keep their mouths shut.  (Often, of course, their more tenured editors are correct in their judgment – which works to protect story subjects.)

But how many young journalists – or journalists of any age for that matter – advise their interview subjects upfront that their copy may be reworked into an unrecognizable form by an unseen editor?  Generally, journalists do not like to advertise that the final news product is not fully within their control.

Financial wire service reporters know all too well that they will be scrutinized by how quickly they are able to push out breaking news.  What they write may move the markets to the tune of hundreds of millions – even billions – of dollars immediately.  Do diligent reporters hold a news release pending clarification – knowing their news rivals will run it instantly – or do they disseminate it as is rather than receive demerits for being late?  That is a daily dilemma for many.

And what about career aspirations?  Not only do journalists want to keep their current bosses happy, but in the back of their minds some of them are factoring what they can do to impress the editor or editors at the news organization they want to work at next.

I once received a call from the business editor of a daily metropolitan newspaper asking me for advice on what he should include in his Sunday column in order to impress a particular editor who I know well at The Wall Street Journal – where he aspired to work.

The business editor did not ask me my opinion of what his readers would most likely find beneficial. That wasn’t foremost on his mind.

A journalist’s career track and ambition may be the chief undeclared self-interest that holds sway over how reporters and editors cover the business world and interact with communications executives. But professional self-interests alone are far from the only unseen influences that journalists must balance daily.

Family life. Political affiliation. Economic class. Health concerns.  Each of these background characteristics skew the prism through which journalists view the world at large and their story subjects in particular.

The facts remain the facts, but journalists have abundant freedom to interpret those details, prioritize them, ignore them and spin them as their professional and personal experiences dictate.

At the most basic level, knowing more – in advance – about a journalist who will arrive soon to interview you or your CEO can prevent awkward moments. For example, making an offhand remark about a news rival, corporate competitor or social cause, without realizing that the journalist’s spouse, sibling, parent or child is closely affiliated with the concern in question.

More profoundly, a journalist who personally has gone through a traumatic experience – such as a cancer diagnosis, bankruptcy, car accident or consumer product injury – or who has a close family member who has faced such a crisis – is simply not likely to report a related story in the same manner as a colleague who never had the experience.

That is not sinister – just human.

The more we know about what drives a journalist – both in the newsroom and at home – the more accurately we can forecast whether a forthcoming interaction with that journalist will be run-of-the-mill, extraordinarily positive, or the onset of a major communications migraine.

What’s in a journalist’s official bio or LinkedIn profile counts.  But not nearly as much as what you won’t find there.

Dean Rotbart is the founder of NewsBios.com