As internet dating services move into the mainstream, reporters are realizing that matchmaking sites can help them put a new spin on a love story.Talk about your feel-good stories. After years of reporting about how sex was the only thing people would pay for online, the media has caught on to the fact that romance, too, can compete for consumer dollars. Not only has the popularity of dating sites, such as Match.com and Matchmaker.com, taken the stigma out of using a web service to find the right mate, it's also proven to be a boon for reporters. "Online dating is a great story because it's about relationships and romantic connections," says Trish McDermott, Match.com's VP of romance. "No matter your demographic, everyone has some understanding of what it means to be single. So beyond an online dating story, it's really about how people connect." Covering the story As online dating has moved into the mainstream, it's no longer covered only by Internet and technology reporters. "The tech story has been told and told and told, and it's a well-known fact that one of the few things making money on the Internet is online dating," says Ronn Torossian, president and CEO of 5W Public Relations, which represents Cupidusa.com and the Jewish dating site JCupid.com. "So now we're finding it's more of a lifestyle consumer reporter who's doing the story." "It's really a story that has a lot of flexibility," adds Michele Greenberg, corporate communications manager for Switchboard.com. The site is mainly an online white and yellow page directory, but people also use it to reunite with lost loves. "You can pitch it to newspapers because they have feature writers and editors that can relate to this, but also for national magazines because it's not a story that is specifically focused on one geographic area." The big challenge facing many of these sites is coming up with new angles to pitch. Online dating has been around long enough that many in the media might feel it's become old news. But Brian Payea, PR director for Matchmaker.com, points out that even though 40 million people visit an online dating site each month, it is still a relatively new trend. "We are realizing that 60% of the single population has not tried online dating," he says. What most sites do have going for them are active users who are more than willing to talk about their likes and dislikes in a partner, which can then be pitched to the media in surveys. "We look to package information into 'State of the Date' surveys," says Ana Sanchez, director of corporate communications for Terra.com, which partners with Matchmaker.com on a Hispanic dating site. "We've picked up fun, interesting facts from querying our database, such as that women don't necessarily mind picking up the tab on the first date, that men prefer long hair, and that men are very often interested in older women. "We also look for angles of important calendar dates," Sanchez continues. "It's not just the obvious ones like Valentine's Day, but it's also Mother's Day for stories on single moms getting out there again." Finding a niche Gardi Wilks of Wilks PR is working with Andrea Orr, a Reuters reporter who wrote the book, Meeting, Mating, and Cheating: Sex, Love, and the New World of Online Dating. Wilks suggests the online dating phenomenon has created a cottage industry of relationships experts who can talk about the topic not only for print, but for broadcast as well. "It's a bit less on TV, but radio has been very interested in the topic." McDermott says the coverage has evolved to a point where there seems to be fewer pieces that compare sites. "What we see from a consumer media perspective is more interest in the details of the story," she says. "Stories about the trend of breaking up online or new services, such as the one we just rolled out, speed matching, which is the online version of speed dating." No matter what the angle, reporters covering online dating are always on the lookout for real-world successes - especially engagements and weddings - to humanize the stories. In some cases, it's the journalists who test-drive the services and write first-person accounts of how they fared. But more often, the sites provide the testimonials from their users. "It makes it more credible, and it also gives the reporter someone they can call and interview on their own," says Greenberg.
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