Retrenchment is the current trend in the online news industry. Many
traditional media outlets that started separate online-only news
divisions are folding them back into the main newsroom.
"Online news media is in a state of flux," says Steven Blinn of Blinn
Public Relations. "Positions are being cut," he adds, citing recent
layoffs at WSJ.com as an example. This only adds to the complex politics
of online/offline pitches.
So, where do you pitch? First, determine the relationship between online
and offline components of the same outlet. "You can't say online
publications and put them all in one bucket," observes Michael Bradshaw,
account director with Provo, UT-based Connect Public Relations. "In some
cases they're doing editor sharing (with an offline sister outlet). In
other cases they are separate, and you have to talk to both."
The type of story you are pitching often determines who you talk to
"If it's a really newsy story, print guys aren't going to be that
interested in picking that up after it appears online," says Bradshaw.
"So you might want to talk to print first, then talk to online the day
the release gets issued."
"A lot of the online versions of publications are looking for the down
and dirty, the five basic questions - when, where, what, how and why -
whereas print is more feature oriented," says Strategic Communications
VP Alex Zavistovich. "If you understand that you can tailor your
Urgency sometimes dictates that you go straight to an online editor.
"When we had that 6.9 earthquake in Seattle and we wanted to communicate
immediately to our customers and stakeholders that our company remained
online during that time, the first call I made was to online media,"
says Bill Hankes, PR director for Internap Network Services. "We got the
word out within 30 minutes."
Online and offline outlets naturally have different deadlines, so know
exactly what the drop-dead dates are for each. "It takes a lot of
research to know the schedules of online editors," says Trylon
Communications CEO Lloyd Trufelman. "Some update daily, some update
hourly, and some weekly. The New York Times recently began updating
throughout the day."
Tricia Ritterbusch, SAE with Sterling Communications, says timing has
become far more important when figuring out who to contact and when.
"The piece can appear online over the weekend before it appears in print
on Monday, but you've already talked to the print reporters and they've
already put the article to bed," she says.
Most PR execs say today's reporter realizes the Internet has changed
many traditional journalism rules. Thus, there are rarely hurt feelings
if a publication's online component breaks a story first.
Many reporters do double duty for the both the online and offline
versions of publications, so Hankes recommends establishing embargoes
and exclusive agreements with individual reporters rather than the
This gives the reporter the flexibility to decide if they want to break
a story on their online site before it appears in print.
But the number of news-hungry online sites has made it increasingly
difficult, if not impossible, to make sure an outlet holds a story until
a particular time. As a result, embargoes are far less common,
especially with online journalists.
"We've gotten into the habit of not doing embargoes," notes Matthew
Meigs, account supervisor with Copper Iverson Marketing. "There's too
much competition. Reporters don't think they can hold information and
keep it from being offered to others unless they're The Wall Street
Ritterbusch says you can use the blurring of lines between online and
offline editions of the same media brand to your advantage. "There is
more staying power with a print publication, and it is often seen by a
wider audience," she says. "But whether you get coverage on Fortune.com
or Forbes.com - as opposed to Forbes or Fortune magazine - it doesn't
impact the reprint that will appear on your client's Web site or in
their media kit. Forbes is Forbes and Fortune is Fortune."
The online media's insatiable need for new content means online editors
often end up offering the best chance of getting your client noticed by
an offline news organization. "Stories that appear in the online version
of Time are vetted by the editors for their print worthiness," says
"In many cases, an online version may become the springboard for print
Zavistovich represents OnlineConservatory.com, a Web site offering music
lessons over the Internet. The site succeeded in getting Time.com to
write it up. While the story ultimately never made it into Time's print
edition, the online version resulted in follow-up coverage in The Wall
Street Journal "Marketplace" section, CNN Headline News and Reuters.
"The spectacular print placements we got were definitely carried on the
backs of the online," Zavistovich says.
1 Do research various deadlines and keep up with whether online outlets
update hourly, daily or weekly
2 Do give online journalists breaking news and save feature pitches for
print and broadcast outlets
3 Do research how online and offline editors work - some share resources
and editors while others have completely separate staffs
1 Don't be an offline news snob - online stories can lead to a pick-up
by the print or broadcast outlet
2 Don't rely on embargoes - competition is too fierce - unless the
publication can guarantee it across online and offline publications
3 Don't use the same pitch to offline and online editors - each has
different needs and should be approached differently.