A film buff and fan of 30 Rock, Lynn Elber covers television for the Associated Press (AP). She talks about the delicate balance between PR professionals and reporters and how the Internet has changed the way she thinks as a journalist.
PRWeek: Can you tell me a bit about your position and how you got there?
Lynn Elber: I started out as a newspaper reporter in Southern California, joined the AP in the 1980s, and worked as a general assignment reporter and as a supervising editor. I was the correspondent in charge of the San Diego bureau, in the Orange County office for the AP in the late '80s. A few years after that, in the early '90s, I was asked to take on the television beat. With the AP, I had a diverse portfolio of stories…and I had done some entertainment reporting. But they felt that it was a good fit for me and I've covered television since then, except for a year of covering film when that writer was on sabbatical.
PRWeek: When you cover television, how much of it is celebrity coverage?
Elber: That is part of what I do; it's really a multilayered approach to covering TV. Definitely, the AP covers celebrities and those who make TV, including the actors, those who write it, those who produce it. We talk to people at the networks. It's an important part of what we do. We cover trends in television and the entertainment industry in general. We cover awards shows heavily. It's a mixed bag.
PRWeek: What have been some of the big stories you enjoyed covering?
Elber: I always enjoy covering the Academy Awards, because, although I cover television, I am a film buff, and it's still clearly the most glamorous of the awards shows. So that is fun to do. Interestingly enough, some of the best parts of my job come not in the areas that people might think of as the most glamorous. A lot of the people who make television are incredibly smart and dedicated and talented. And when you can talk to the people who write it, people like the person who created Mad Men or the people behind Lost, these are very smart people with interesting ideas, and to be able to sit down with them and hear about how they approach the work that they do is fascinating.
PRWeek: Did you always know that you wanted to be a journalist?
Elber: Actually, I did. I think there were several reasons and some areas of inspiration. Just reading a book about [early American journalist] Nellie Bly when I was a youngster made me think that this could be an interesting and exciting career.
PRWeek: How has the new media landscape changed your job?
Elber: Tremendously, as with any journalist. In a way, it brought the AP, not back to it because we never left, [to] the landscape of filing stories quickly, accurately, and getting ahead of everyone else. But, obviously, with the Internet, that has gotten a renewed emphasis in our approach. Not that we ever left it, but we all know how everyone is eager to get news right away. We do that. We understand that we have to get stories out maybe in a shorter version that people want to read. We still do more in-depth reporting. It's opened up the way I can report and the way I can get information. That is certainly important. And for us,* also, because we approach the news we put out from every aspect, from photos, videos, text. It all comes together online, and so that's always uppermost in our minds, that we need to hit all those points.
PRWeek: What is your relationship like with PR professionals?
Elber: People who work in PR are a key part of my day, everyday. I deal with representatives from the networks, the studios, and personal publicists. This whole puzzle comes together because we're here, the reporters, and publicists are there. Particularly in the area I cover, in the entertainment industry, they are a crucial part of the formula and how it all works.
PRWeek: What have you seen change about the way that PR professionals pitch you in recent years?
Elber: You brought up the Internet, and I think it's extraordinary how many pitches come in through e-mail. Obviously, in television, you get a lot of [new] TV shows and we get a lot of press kits, and those bring important information. But many pitches now are made first via e-mail. Fewer people pick up the phone, which is both good and bad.
PRWeek: Do you prefer e-mail or not?
Elber: Just because of the sheer volume, I do. But I would say that when someone's got a story that [he or she is] particularly high on, it shows me that they care if, not every time, but if they do pick up the phone and follow up. If it's something that they realize, is particularly important to their client, but they also realize could be an important story for the AP. That is a key thing. I understand that there are lots of stories out there to be pitched and lots of elements in any project, whether it's a TV show or a movie. I think, for me and my colleagues, we ask that people understand that we know that they know the difference between a sort of minor pitch and something that they are coming at us and saying, “We've got a big story for you, and you guys are going to get it exclusively," which we always prefer. We're certainly discerning about what is coming, and we ask that they recognize that.
PRWeek: What is your favorite TV show?
Elber: I have to say, right now, 30 Rock. Love that show. It's starting to pick up viewership and hopefully Tina Fey's exposure on Saturday Night Live will get people on board.
Name: Lynn Elber
Title: Television writer
Outlet: Associated Press
Preferred Contact Method: firstname.lastname@example.org
* Due to a transcription error, a previous version said “and [it's changed] press.” PRWeek regrets the error.