PR TECHNIQUE INFORMATION SERVICES - How to reach the cyber-journalists - With hundreds of web sites now covering news, finding the right online reporters has become something of a chore David Ward explores the tools that are out there to help.

Call it the dark lining around the silver cloud.

Call it the dark lining around the silver cloud.

Call it the dark lining around the silver cloud.

The Internet has spawned online journalism, creating new opportunities

for PR pros to disseminate news, but at the same time putting incredible

pressure on the resources of many PR firms. Agencies are now bombarded

with an increasing number of cyber-reporters and editors requesting

content and comment, which they must sort through on the fly to

determine which journalists are the best outlets for their clients’


’One of the things that all of us in the industry are struggling with

right now is being able to identify good reporters who are separate and

distinct from the offline world,’ says Colburn Aker, president of the

Washington, DC-based Aker Partners. ’There are thousands of media sites

that just take copy and post it, while others have their own distinct

staff and are looking for separate and distinct content.’

Indeed, the PR gatekeeping function - the need to continually update and

evaluate the world of cyber-journalists - becomes even more


Compounding the issue is that one often can’t judge a site at first


Tuesday Uhland, VP at Access Communications, San Francisco, points out

that in some cases a niche site being run by a 13-year-old out of his

bedroom could have more credibility with a key consumer base than a more

established online organization. ’You really have to do some good

qualification there,’ she says.

Luckily for PR pros, a number of services are being created to help with

the task of finding the right cyber-journalists. Cambridge, MA-based

MediaMap, for one, has moved aggressively to establish a database that

provides detailed information on more than 300 top media sites. The

dollars 1,995 annual service is updated weekly.

MediaMap recently augmented its online journalism efforts by launching a

free weekly e-newsletter, webPR, that provides public relations tips and

tricks, a list of top five most desired sites and detailed profiles of

new and established online news outlets.

Chicago-based Bacon’s Information is set to release its first Internet

Media Directory in February. The volume will feature information on

about 5,000 online news outlets, all but 400 of which are tied to

traditional print or broadcast outlets. The directory will include some

additional information, including the number of hits sites receive

monthly, when those figures can be verified.

Ruth McFarland, editor and publisher at Bacon’s, says the Internet

directory had to be created from ’scratch,’ adding the difficulty the

company faced was in determining whether online-only news organizations

were not only credible but also had a consistent presence. ’A lot of

sites were up one day and then were not there the next time we looked

for them, so we couldn’t include them,’ she says.

Bacon’s also plans to provide PR firms with information on what method

to use to contact reporters. While virtually every journalist, both on

and offline now has e-mail, some do not want to receive information


Even journalists in the same news organization may have different

preferences. ’A lot of them call us and say they don’t want their e-mail

address listed,’ McFarland explains. ’They say they consider their PC

their personal property and they resent having unsolicited releases sent

to them.’

Burrelle’s Information Services, another long-established media

directory company, is set to launch its first online media directory

aimed at the cyber-journalist sometime this year. The Livingston,

NJ-based company’s traditional media directories do list some

online-only news organizations such as Salon, Slate and CNET.

The Internet enables PR firms and their clients to shift from strictly

pushing content to journalists to using technology to lure qualified

cyber-journalists to sites with news and other information. One outlet

in this category is, which bills itself as the first

multimedia Internet news portal.

Newstream, a New York-based collaboration between Medialink and Business

Wire, formally launched several weeks ago, but had already accumulated a

list of over 5,300 online journalists since its soft rollout last


Much like more traditional PR-based wires, Newstream’s business model is

fee-based, with clients and agencies paying to post content (including

audio, video and slides), which the company then distributes to as wide

an audience as possible.

PR Newswire began its pursuit of online journalists with the October

1997 debut of Since the launch, some 16,600 journalists

have signed on to access a variety of streaming and archived multi-media


PR Newswire has inked a number of deals aimed at increasing its online

presence. They include: last year’s deal with NBC to archive multi-media

offerings on the Video Seeker service; the December acquisition of

UK-based online hi-tech and health care news service NEWSdesk

International, which it plans to expand; and the upcoming, yet to be

announced, partnership with online audio/video directory

In addition to the legitimacy and permanence of web sites, PR pros face

other issues in dealing with online journalists. For example, they are

challenged by maintaining relationships with key reporters as they

migrate from broadcast and print into the online news world. To maintain

those relationships, many experts caution against relying too much on

new technologies at the expense of traditional PR tools such as phone

calls and regular face-to-face contact when courting the online




1 Stress to your clients the growing importance of Internet sites in

getting a message out.

2 Make efforts to follow key journalists as they migrate to online

publications and outlets.

3 Take advantage of the Internet by including video, audio, PowerPoint

and hyperlinks in press releases aimed at cyber-journalists.


1 Judge a site on first glance. Often, sites that appear minor may hold

sway over a key demographic your client is trying to reach.

2 Become overly reliant on new technology to deliver your message and

maintain relationships. In many cases, e-mail should be an augment and

should not replace a phone call or face-to-face meeting.

3 Dismiss the Internet as only being for campaigns tied to dot-com or

high-tech products and companies. It’s a mass market medium.

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