Rachel Sklar gave up a career as a lawyer to jump into the hectic world of freelance and online reporting.
After writing for several print and online news outlets and blogs, she joined the news and opinion site Huffington Post to get its media coverage off the ground. She spoke to PRWeek about life on the frontiers of the online media world.
PRWeek: With so many media blogs out there, what is your vision for Eat the Press that will differentiate it?
Rachel Sklar: I think it already is differentiated from what's already out there. Eat the Press is really just meant to take what the Huffington Post already has in media coverage, and augment it specifically for the audience that's interested in media coverage, and how events are covered by the media.
The Huffington Post is a news and opinion site, so there's tons of overlap between ETP and the main news page of the blog. It just seemed like a place where the Huffington Post could develop its media coverage, and having a place like Eat the Press seemed to be like a good idea. I don't think we are another media blog. We're certainly different from Gawker in our tone. Although like a lot of blogs, we try to have fun with it, try to crack a few jokes…I like to see it as a complement to what's out there.
PRWeek: The Huffington Post is very diverse—what do you think its appeal is?
Sklar: The Huffington Post is a one-stop shop for all breaking news. So if you only have a minute and a half to get caught up with what's going on in the world, it is by far the most efficient destination. But in addition to that, the number of amazing contributors that HuffPo has means that there's constantly really sharp insight and analysis and coverage on the blog.
For people who are news junkies, it's like crack. You can always keep on coming back and find something smart and opinionated, with new information and new ways of looking at things. It's a terrific resource that way…The appeal is, bluntly, that it's got great staff, it's got great content, and it's got plentiful content. And in the blogosphere, content is king.
PRWeek: Do you think the explosion of media criticism in the blogosphere has changed the way that mainstream media does its job?
Sklar: I definitely see a change in the way that mainstream media is delivered. And I do think it's changed the way it does its job. I actually think a really good example of that is this whole Mel Gibson [DUI] story. Because [celebrity news site TMZ.com] broke the main information about the Mel Gibson anti-Semitic violent barrage of commentary and all the mainstream media outlets were playing catch-up on the story. They weren't delivering the story to people who hadn't heard of it in the way that they may have done five years ago, because by the time that the mainstream media got on it, it had already flown around the blogosphere and been commented on by blogs. There were probably already Mel Gibson parody sites. It happens with lightning speed now. So it has to change the coverage, in order to react to the changing paradigm for how the news is actually delivered to the consumer.
PRWeek: Do you think newspapers and magazines are going to adapt and get through all this changing media?
Sklar: Yes, I really do think so. I think that's exactly what they're doing now; they're adapting to the fact that there are new methods of delivery, and there are new options available for the consumer. But I genuinely think that it's not everyone's cup of tea to hunker down in front of the computer and get their news that way. There's a great deal of pleasure in thumbing through a beautiful magazine, and appreciating the layout that goes into stories, and appreciating the photography and the design.
PRWeek: Your blog is a mix of what's already out there, and stories you break. How much of what you do is traditional reporting?
Sklar: It really depends on the day. We're still fresh and young, so we're still feeling out how to best apply the resources we have at our disposal. But yes, breaking news stuff is definitely important to us, and I'm in the mix, I hear things, and I like to follow up on them. So in terms of how the stories are covered, we do it in the traditional way, i.e. good old-fashioned reporting…But then there's obviously the mandate to be a one-stop shop for people who want media news, and try and get the important stories out there, so that when people come to the site they're not missing anything. And then there's a third arm, which is commentary and analysis.
PRWeek: What kind of interactions are you having with PR people? Are you getting pitched a lot?
Sklar: Sure, I'm in touch with magazine PR people, letting me know what kind of stories are being covered and what they're doing. I love and am quite happy to hear from PR people. I have a terrific relationship with PR people, and I find, by and large, them to be extremely responsive when I have questions, when I need information, they're always super helpful.
Everybody knows that everybody has an agenda; their agenda is to get as many media impressions as possible, my agenda is to get the best stories out there, and with the news spin, not the PR spin. So there's an obvious conflict of agendas there, but everybody understands that, and that's cool.
The only thing that I don't like is when somebody pitches me something that is obviously so inappropriate for Eat the Press that I would never do it. Why waste my time? It's not going to happen…If everybody can just remember that the end goal is ‘what is the most useful to the reader?', then we're already halfway there.
Name: Rachel Sklar
Outlet: The Huffington Post
Title: "Eat the Press" editor
Preferred contact method: Rachel@huffingtonpost.com
Web site: huffingtonpost.com/eat-the-press