Journalist Q&A: ABC's Byron Pitts

Byron Pitts, ABC anchor, speaks to Lindsay Stein about leveraging social media to drive people back to TV, his interview wish list, and what to expect from the network in the coming year.

Name: Byron Pitts
Title: News anchor and chief national correspondent
Outlet: ABC
Preferred contact: byron.pitts@abc.com
Website: www.abcnews.go.com

You have been at ABC a little over a year now. What work has made you particularly proud?
I’m proud of ABC’s commitment to social media. Certainly, it is something that all media outlets recognize, but I believe ABC is on the cutting edge of it. We had a conference call the other day with senior management, correspondents, and producers, encouraging us as we get news to break it on the Web, which is dramatically different than how we thought just a few months ago.

What do you want to see more of this year from the network?
ABC’s continuing commitment to diversity in its staffing, in its coverage, and in the range of topics that we tackle. I’m working on a big piece about stuttering, which at first glance is not a very visually compelling story, but it impacts so many people and, because it’s important, we’re going to do it.

I’m working on another story about literacy because it is the single best indicator of a child’s future, whether it is their earning potential or chance of incarceration. It is a better indicator than family income or race. 

Again [the story] is something that is not particularly visual, but it is an important story, therefore that is reason enough for us to do it.

With more people consuming news online or on social media, does television have as strong of a positioning as it did in the past?
If you have a presence on social media, it becomes a pathway to guide people back to TV, bridging what has become a disconnect between commercial television and the Internet. ABC is building a strong bridge because you can get basic information on Twitter and Facebook. You can get a wonderful appetizer there, but if you want a full entrée, then continue on to ABC News and our many platforms here.

What separates good and bad PR pitches?
A good PR pitch is one that is timely and relevant to what is going on in the news.

For instance, the day after the shooting in April in Fort Hood, Texas, if a PR person said, "These are the three leading experts on mental health or PTSD," then that would be helpful, as opposed to an email that said, "We have a client who has come up with the latest and best dog shampoo." 

I’m sure it’s a great product and there may be a day in which that is important, but the day after the shooting would not be the right day. Also, building relationships [is important]. There are people in the PR world that I deal with on a regular basis and have gotten to know throughout time. It’s not good journalism to only interact with people when I am on deadline and need something from them. 

It’s about me as a journalist building relationships with them and that’s the same with PR people. It’s valuable to build relationships with journalists as opposed to our only interaction being when you’re pushing a product in front of me.

If you could interview anyone, living or dead, who would it be?
I met Nelson Mandela briefly and got the chance to ask him one question, "What’s the one thing in life you know for sure?" His answer was that good and evil are constantly at war and good men must choose. I would have loved the opportunity to have sat down with him to do a more thorough interview.

And then living, it would be Kim Jong-un, head of North Korea, in part because there are a lot of people who potentially pose a threat to the US and it’s always worthwhile in journalism to shed light in dark places.

You overcame illiteracy and a stutter at a young age to reach your goals. What advice would you give people who are striving to accomplish their dreams?
It is the same advice in which my mother raised her three children. If you work hard, pray, and treat people right, then good things will happen. I always tell young people it’s important to treat people the best you can.

For everyone in life, there are some things we already know that we don’t know, but we can find out on our own. However, there are things that we just don’t know about. And the only way we’ll learn those things is if someone is kind enough to point them out to us.

If we are rude, abrasive, and arrogant, then more than likely, we are never going to get that tap on the shoulder from someone saying, "You should really know this."   

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