Chris Dorobek recently left Federal Computer Week as editor-in-chief to anchor a DC-area afternoon drive-time radio program covering the government community in all its sometime innovative, and sometimes bureaucratic, glory. He spoke with PRWeek recently about his new venture and his fascination with that multi-tentacle beast, the federal government.
PRWeek: What prompted the switch to radio after being in print for so long?
Chris Dorobek: It was time for a new challenge. It's interesting because my first passion for journalism was radio. The Daily Debrief is also expanding to four hours from its previous two hour slot, and it is also expanding from one anchor to two. The company is also taking a risk on putting a print guy on the radio. I have a lot to learn in the weeks and months ahead, but I'm looking forward to the experience.
The other reason for deciding to leave was that I wanted to grow something that I could call my own. The Dorobek Insider is at least a start of that idea. The publishing business has changed so much in recent years, like so many businesses. It's interesting because I have had the opportunity to cover the government world during a time of almost revolutionary change over the past 16 years. But the changes in publishing have been truly revolutionary. Today, the printing presses have been democratized to a point that just about anybody can become a journalist.
That doesn't mean that everybody who has a blog actually is a journalist, but… anybody can be a journalist. And I watched over the past several years as the innovative Huffington Post, started by Arianna Huffington, developed from a mere blog into… well, something more. Then, over the last few years, I have tried to develop FCW.com's FCW Insider into something more.
And then, in July, a person I deeply respect in the government community, Marty Wagner, a former senior executive at the General Services Administration, fell off his roof. He is still in a coma. I was the first person to tell most of the community about it, and this community really rallied around both him and his family. It was quite touching, and it seemed to illustrate to me that people are really yearning for community.
PRWeek: So what will the DorobekInsider.com be?
Dorobek: Essentially, at least at the start, it will be something similar to what the FCW Insider was — a place to talk about the issues confronting government… a place to provide news, insights, and analysis. Yet beyond that, part of what I want to do is build community.
PRWeek: Did you have experience in radio previously? If not, how are you learning to do it?
Dorobek: For the past three years, I have done 25-second spots for Federal News Radio's sister station, WTOP radio. I have also done a dozen half-hour programs for Federal News Radio. But essentially, I didn't know much about radio other then going on air. So, in my 40s, I'm getting to learn a whole bunch about a new world. It is actually very exciting. "Radio time" seems to disappear much faster then regular time. A 10-minute interview just seems to evaporate. And I have learned things like you don't eat crackers before going on air - they create a very dry mouth. And there is a host of new technology to learn. But, in my 40s, it is very exciting.
PRWeek: Do you still do fact gathering and reporting and all that sort of thing, as with other journalism work?
Dorobek: Yep. We are a news organization. We just tell people what they need to know. So I'm still chasing the news and trying to find innovative ways of telling stories. And I think the challenges are similar to print. Our main competition is really time. People simply don't have enough time to do everything. So my rules of being an editor were that you have to get it right, and you can't be boring. After two weeks in radio, it seems to me that the same rule applies. That being said, Federal News Radio is not for everybody. We are "broadcasting,” but we are looking for a somewhat targeted audience.
PRWeek: Anything about radio you like better or worse than being print journalist?
Dorobek: There are several really cool things about radio. One is the intimacy. We are in people's earphones or riding with them in their car on the way home. The other thing is the speed. If something breaks and we have it nailed down, we can tell people about it - literally “breaking” news by breaking into whatever is going on. And the great thing is that I'll be keeping my blog, so I'll still be able to be a print guy, I hope.
PRWeek: How long were you at Federal Computer Week?
Dorobek: Almost nine years. That's the longest I've had a job. I've been covering this for a long time. I was with Government Computer News for almost five years.
PRWeek: How did you start off in journalism?
Dorobek: My first job was in New Hampshire. I graduated from [the University of Southern California] and I had never driven in snow. I was up in New Hampshire for about five years, [including at] Foster's Daily Democrat in Portsmouth. That was great experience. The paper is a community publication; they focus on making sure that if it happened, it's in the publication. So that's what I always [say] now - that what we cover is a community.
PRWeek: What interests you about the government IT?
Dorobek: It's a $70 billion market. And you think about all the things IT touches, the same is true for the federal government. Each and every part – taxes, Homeland Security, passports – technology is ingrained in everything you do. Feds don't have a very good reputation, but I get to deal day in and day out with some of the brightest people on the planet who are deal with enormous challenges. The federal government does everything other large organizations do, just generally on much larger scales. They have a personnel system, but it covers millions of employees. They have a retirement system, but it covers millions of employees. They have to process loans. Almost every part of the private sector out there, the federal government does, but on an enormous scale. You have a lot of people in the federal government who I don't think get nearly as much credit as they deserve.
PRWeek: How do you find the PR folks who work in the government IT sphere to be?
Dorobek: It's hard to generalize. I think in general, you're dealing with scale. The people in government departments are dealing with everyone from The New York Times and The Washington Post to me and some blogger. They have to try to constantly manage this very wide degree of folks and media outlets.
PRWeek: What types of pitches do you find most helpful?
Dorobek: It's always interesting to me that I will get a lot of press folks contacting me who just have no interest in the government or won't have looked at my publication. It's always a little bit shocking. I always think how hard it must be for PR folks to deal with us journalists. Because we're sort of like the government, each of us is very unique. Some people like the press release sent to multiple people in the organization, some people get very angry if you send it to multiple people. Some people like phone calls, other people only want e-mail. It has to be very hard.
PRWeek: And technology PR must be harder because it's specialized.
Dorobek: It is. I have a couple of pet peeves: One would be when people haven't even know about [the nature] of my publication. My other big pet peeves would be when people send a press release as an e-mail and it's a PDF attachment. Don't do that. It's an extra step people have to go through, and it never makes any sense to me. There are a handful of firms in the [government IT] community and those people, when I get calls from them, I trust them. They know what I'm looking for.
We're looking for [sources] that are knowledgeable and can provide information that's useful for our audiences. It always amazes me the people that are interested in [only] talking about their company and not, “How do you help my readers do their job better?” It's not just trying to get me to [talk] about your product or service, but telling a story about how they can help my audience.
Name: Chris Dorobek
Title: anchor, managing editor
Outlets: The Daily Debrief with Chris Dorobek and Amy Morris, FederalNewsRadio.com
Preferred contact method: firstname.lastname@example.org