Battle to 'own' stories is now a fair fight

Political experts. Ex-IRS lawyers. Relationship counselors. A psychic who predicts the next major scandal.

Political experts. Ex-IRS lawyers. Relationship counselors. A psychic who predicts the next major scandal.

In the days following shocking revelations that former New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer was a client of a high-end prostitution service, PR pros pitched the services of each of these to a wide range of news outlets and bloggers.

For instance, Michael Darden, president of Perfect Pitch Media Relations, successfully offered couples expert Rich Hammons to Oprah & Friends XM Radio show. Coverage of the scandal by non-traditional media outlets, such as satellite radio, speaks to the diverse media landscape of stories with audience-specific viewpoints, he points out.

"[The coverage] helps you see all the angles. I think that the term I hear a lot now is that news is 'viral,' you can get it in so many different ways," explains Darden. "You have newspapers, the Web, and television, and that means that there are [several] angles, as well as the ways you can slice and dice, and that's going to expand exponentially."

The New York Times had what many experts consider the most thorough coverage of Spitzer's public apology, and subsequent resignation as the Empire State's chief executive. Still, reporters and bloggers from myriad news outlets and blogs also rushed to find a unique viewpoint.

A decade ago, reporters from major newspapers, wire services, and broadcast and cable news networks would have had the lion's share of bylines on such an event, says Barry Hollander, journalism professor at the University of Georgia.

"From Matt Drudge and the dress, everything has changed in terms of how stories break - and who breaks them," he adds. "For a long time, journalists could ignore things that broke online, but now they really can't afford to. With so many people poking their heads in so many places, stories break that either wouldn't have broken or weren't ready to break, when they were not really nailed down yet.

"There are papers like the [New York] Post, the tabloids, that can do things that the traditional newspaper cannot - from the formatting to the funny headlines," continues Hollander. "The blogs can get away with things, [as can] Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, that The New York Times cannot get away with."

While bloggers need little incentive to chase stories that Hollander says have "all the ingredients needed for the perfect meal" -sex, a high-ranking politician, and hypocrisy - they now have a nearly even playing field with professional journalists, courtesy of information readily available on Web sites such as MySpace, where Spitzer's "girl" Ashley Alexandra DuprĊ½ maintained a profile. The resulting reports from bloggers are often more enjoyable than those produced by traditional scribes, he adds.

"Access has become flat thanks to the Internet," Hollander notes. "Everyone can start picking and prodding and covering this in his or her own special way. A lot of it is very funny, and a lot of it is deeply satirical. The problem with journalists is that they're covering this as straight news, and a lot of other people are having a lot more fun and being a lot more entertaining because they don't have the restraints that traditional journalists do."

However, the fact that one news outlet can no longer "own" a story means more work for journalists and communications pros. The ever-expanding number of news sources means reporters and PR pros must spend more time reading a greater number of stories than in the past, says Scott Lorenz, president of Westwind Communications, who pitched former IRS attorney Angelique Neal as an expert on suspicious activity reports.

"[A greater number of outlets] does make it easier," he says, "but you still have to cut through all of the stuff so you can create a strategy, and a few days later, there's
not as much of a story there."

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