MEDIA ROUNDUP: Reporters take on workplace beat

As Americans spend more of their time in the workplace, reporters are finding new ways to expand coverage of the on-the-job issues facing employees.

As Americans spend more of their time in the workplace, reporters are finding new ways to expand coverage of the on-the-job issues facing employees.

Whether he likes it or not, the average American spends as much time, if not more, interacting with his coworkers and bosses as he does with family and friends. But it's only been fairly recently that the media has taken this trend seriously enough to assign dedicated reporters to the workplace beat. "Over the past five years, there has been this emerging niche of work-life reporters," says Kathie Lingle, former national work-life director at accounting firm KPMG and now director of the Alliance for Work-Life Progress. "Some of them write articles on how to survive in a time-ravaged world, and some focus more on very specific issues, such as how to find out if your company has pet-care insurance." For the most part, this growth has primarily been a print phenomenon. "We certainly get inquiries from TV and radio, but the reporters who repeatedly come back to us because the workplace is their beat tend to be print," notes Jeremy Gruber, legal director of the National Workrights Institute. Changes in coverage Because it's still a relatively new journalistic category, Ogilvy senior account executive Carrie Kocik, says, "These reporters seem to be very open to hearing pitch ideas, especially if it's about a new trend that we've noticed." This is especially true, Kocik adds, if there's a survey or study on a workplace trend that can provide a ready news hook. But as the economy went from boom to bust to now slow recovery, workplace coverage has undergone some changes of its own. The clearest evidence of that is the shift away from novelty stories on companies coddling workers with everything from meditation rooms to concierge service. "A lot of those practices are still there, but that doesn't make news anymore," says Lingle. "The coverage has become more substantial, more 'big- trend' focused." Indeed, one of the biggest surprises in workplace journalism is how much of it is now focused on life outside the office or plant. With companies stressing increased productivity, employees are being asked to expand their hours well beyond the traditional 40-hour workweek. "We're seeing a real overlap between work life and home life," observes Julie Swenson of Minneapolis-based Abbas Public Relations. "People are working longer hours, you can work from home, and now you're even seeing people bringing their kids and dogs to work. So why wouldn't good workplace journalists reflect those blurred boundaries?" But Ellen Bravo, director of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, points out that while the coverage of the workplace has increased, some of the old pre-conceptions about the work/life balance still hinder some of the reporting. "There's still too much of the working moms versus stay-at-home mom stories that put the focus on moms in the workforce as opposed to both parents," she says. "It gets narrowed to be a women's issue and gets put on the women's pages." Evolving issues As workplace coverage has expanded, it's also developed several sub-beats. On one side are a host of service-oriented journalists offering advice on everything from how to ask for a raise, to dealing with an obnoxious or lazy coworker, to whether leaving work early to coach a Little League team will hurt your career. But Gruber points out that there's also a large contingent of hard-news reporters who tend to focus on the workplace as a legal and public-policy story - although he notes that the issues that are covered have changed over the years. "We don't get a lot of calls on sexual harassment anymore because the issue has been around for some time, and the legal parameters are well-defined," he says. "Probably the issue we get the most inquiries about from the media these days is workplace monitoring, specifically computer monitoring." Regardless of the angle, workplace reporters often turn to public relations professionals to provide them not just with the experts and the statistics for their articles, but also the real-world employees who can provide a human face to the story. That's not hard to do for a flattering story that touts a company's progressive attitude toward its workers. But, Kocik says, it can be tricky for a topic that even hints of controversy. "People don't want to have their name in a story where they appear to be griping," she says. ------- Pitching... the workplace
  • There are few seasonal trends to workplace coverage, but the first part of any year does offer some opportunity to pitch New Year's resolution-themed pieces on issues like how to get a promotion
  • Look to pitch employer-focused pieces on, for example, how to spot a disgruntled employee or how to keep office morale up following a round of layoffs
  • Work-life coverage is slowly becoming less gender-specific, so look to pitch stories on issues like paternity leave

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