PR TECHNIQUE ONLINE JOURNALISM: Cyberjournalism: how to work with online media sites - Just a few years ago, naysayers were pooh-poohing the notion that people would get their news online. Now there are so many Net-based news outlets, PR pros are struggli

Internet news venues might be growing in influence among Web surfers, but their ripples still get wiped out by the tide of traditional media.

Internet news venues might be growing in influence among Web surfers, but their ripples still get wiped out by the tide of traditional media.

Internet news venues might be growing in influence among Web

surfers, but their ripples still get wiped out by the tide of

traditional media.

While PR pros target specialized online news outlets to reach niche

audiences, few if any focus media-relations campaigns solely on the

Internet. ’The top executives still value traditional print ink more

than online even though you can make the argument that with online, you

can get more detailed stories and longer stories,’ says Susan Kohl of

Sierra Communications in San Jose, CA. A hard-copy article in The Wall

Street Journal has a longer shelf life than a posting on the paper’s

Internet site, adds Constance Hubbell, CEO of, a virtual PR


Still, there are obviously good reasons to target online media, if only

as part of a larger media mix. Also, dot-coms live and die online, and

Hubbell says their CEOs sometimes must be reminded not to forget

traditional media. ’I always advise them to take a broader view,’ she


The Web’s immediacy can be an advantage in a crisis, experts agree, and

the Net must be an integral part of any campaign targeting an online


The launch of a new Internet service or e-commerce site, for example,

needs strong online coverage as well as attention in the traditional


Web site pickup can be especially useful for financial stories targeting

online traders, who need the latest breaking news to make investment

decisions, Hubbell notes. ’In the investment management arena, the

online media can be a very powerful platform.’ The Internet is often the

quickest venue for reaching international audiences as well.

Generalizations can be difficult to make about online news outlets.

Some observers think Internet articles are shorter than those in daily

newspapers, while others find more depth. ’You can dive in or go wading

online,’ says PepperCom founder Steve Cody. David Ragals, VP of news

features at CNN Interactive, says his organization uses links to

sidebars, corporate Web sites and expanded text so readers can choose to

skim news nuggets or delve deeper into topics.

But targeting online media sites and their individual reporters presents

PR pros with special challenges.

Deadlines loom constantly for online journalists. ’There’s no such thing

as a news cycle on the Internet anymore,’ observes Edward Segal, author

of Getting Your 15 Minutes of Fame and More! Consequently, PR pros

shouldn’t pitch to Web venues unless they are prepared to provide the

whole story immediately, Ragals advises. Saying ’I’ll check on that and

get back to you,’ greatly reduces your story’s chance of running on Promptly providing digital elements - still photos, audio clips

or streaming video - improves your chances. Ragals says Internet

presentation can combine the illustrative elements of print and

broadcast. ’We have the luxury of having the most choices,’ he says.

Overall, online publications might be more receptive to PR pitches

because they have a bottomless news hole to fill and must update content


Some Internet journalists might be younger and hungrier than their print

counterparts and, therefore, more appreciative of exclusives, says Peter

Harris, head of PepperCom’s Internet group. However, spokespeople should

make sure everything they say to online journalists is public, warns

Holly Hagerman, president of Connect PR. ’Anything that you provide them

can be posted within an hour,’ she points out. Advance tips aren’t

necessarily a good idea when dealing with Internet journalists,

especially if you hope to get good coverage in print outlets that don’t

like getting scooped.

Many Internet news sites are notoriously understaffed and depend a great

deal on wire copy. A study conducted by the Committee of Concerned

Journalists found that during this year’s political primaries, 25% of

the home pages surveyed included no original material. Reuters was by

far the most frequently used wire service.

Since the Associated Press isn’t a for-profit concern, Reuters has

pulled ahead of the venerated wire service online, says Jeff Franks,

Reuters’ Houston bureau chief. The 900 or so Web sites served by the

British service have greatly increased demand for breaking news stories,

Franks says.

Reuters is a hard sell for PR pros, however. ’About 99.9% of the time I

don’t use things that are pitched to me,’ Franks estimates. ’Everything

we write has to be of some interest to the world.’ Reporters often

mistakenly expect Reuters to be particularly interested in stories with

a British twist, he notes. He does occasionally call PR pros for company

background or logistical help and - infrequently - follows up on press

releases about university studies, he adds.

Several services are emerging to help media relations people decide

which Web sites to target. MediaMetrix, for example, determines how many

discreet individuals visit a Web site in a month’s time. Bacon’s plans

to begin offering a similar service with MediaSource, the online version

of its media directory. Michael Buxbaum, Bacons’ director of business

development, warns that Internet publications come and go very quickly

and says PR pros should make sure the outlets they target are


Many pros suggest using e-mail pitches when dealing with online

journalists, followed by well-timed phone calls. ’Fluff is not needed,’

says Hubbell, who likes to limit verbal pitches to 30 seconds. ’Get

right to the point.’

Ragals says his staff is most likely to follow up on legitimate news

events and stories with strong consumer focus. His pet peeves are

company Web sites without media contact information and spokespeople who

call to tell him what’s already on the wire.

The Internet still has a long wave to ride and may never wash out

television and print media as a means to reach target audiences. But

experts agree that Web news sites already are worth more than just a

drop in the media-relations bucket.


Rank  Sites             Unique visitors per month

                                   (in thousands)

1                            10,102

2     ZDNET                                 9,679

3     CNET                                  9,303

4                             8,559

5                               4,599

6     Money Central                         4,334

7                       4,079

8 (             3,992

9     ABC News                              3,510

10                         3,306

SOURCE: MediaMetrix’s ’Top 50 News, Information and Entertainment

Sites,’ March 2000

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