Newsrooms are changing quickly as technologies such as generative AI, social media and evolving data tools continue to have an impact. PA Media’s editor-in-chief, Pete Clifton, explained to delegates at PR360 how the PA Media’s newsroom is responding.
“The biggest change in the past six months or so is the move to live video,” Clifton says. The agency now produces between six to 10 live streams a day. He added: “It will only grow as time goes on.” PR teams pitching stories requiring video or images need to give as much notice as possible, he says, to ensure the right resource can be planned.
PA Media is producing more content for non-media customers. PA Mediapoint’s service is a growing site that gives information on how the newsroom is run – such as key contacts, and the newsdesk’s diary – and also produces content for specific customer bases, such as those interested in or working in ESG. “It’s us understanding more about what non-media customers want, and delivering it for them – in the next year or two we’ll do more of that,” he says.
AI and ChatGPT
Clifton says the impact of generative AI such as ChatGPT is unclear. “Anyone who says they’ve got it cracked, I wouldn’t believe them. It plays to our strengths in that there’s this amazing software that can rewrite stuff, but what it can’t do is go to news conferences or knock on doors, or go to terror attacks or court cases.”
Yet, he is interested in how the service could help support production processes. “We’re looking at how we can translate content, how we can take something that is 600 words and turn it into 60 words if that’s what a customer wants. We get thousands of emails every day and we’re looking at training AI to select those that might be of interest. If we can do that it would save hours a day on the newsdesk, sorting through lots of stuff we don’t want to read.”
Data is playing a growing role in the news agency’s output. “We’ve been using automation for five years, and have a team of data journalists interrogating data sets and looking for interesting angles within that data,” he says. Using automation tools, the team can produce hundreds of stories from one data set – for example, producing a story for every local authority in the country based on one set of data, flagging the best and worst performers in a given area, or finding other angles. “There is human oversight, but with natural language generation we’re producing stories on a scale we couldn’t before. We’re providing information on services across the country from education to health.” Clifton adds that stories from this work appear on regional newspaper front pages every day.
The next step in this work could be to make PA Media’s expertise available to non-media companies who have lots of data and want to tell stories about what they know. Clifton gave the example of a recruitment agency with lots of data on the jobs available across the UK, who could potentially turn that into individual stories for different towns.
PA Media is also using performance data to track which content does well, enabling the agency to tailor its output to include a higher proportion of successful stories. “We have a real-time view of what people are searching for and downloading [from our platform] so we have an idea of what journalists are looking at.”
The agency also searches the internet for matches for its content, with a higher number of matches suggesting the agency’s content is performing well. “Every editor has a view of content and has targets to increase engagement, so we stop doing content people don’t read. It makes it a better, more satisfying experience for the journalist, and means we’re delivering a better product for the customer,” Clifton says. In addition, some customers have started to share their data so PA Media can see how it performed on their website. “This openness and approach to data and what we know about content has created far better relationships with customers.”
Top tips for pitching to PA’s newsroom:
Think words, pictures and video, enabling the team to tell the story in the most effective way.
Get to know the right reporters or specialists, meaning the story goes to the right person.
Offer the story to PA Media as an exclusive.
Give plenty of notice – a few days or a week helps with stories that require video.
Think about stories that could be held for a Saturday or Sunday, when newsrooms are quiet.
Avoid calling early in the morning during the week, or any time when a big news event is occurring.
Send genuine news angles and stories. Clifton advised avoiding ‘mindless fluff’ and surveys.
Keep releases short and to the point, and avoid calling first to ask if you can send something.
Avoid small talk and long greetings.
Once a release has been sent, make sure any contacts listed are available.
Clifton also advised not calling to ask if the release has been used, but keeping an eye out for the story yourself.