Media Relations for Professors

On Monday, SCU had a “thank you” lunch for professors and administrators who had media exposure this year. The formal program included three speakers: Ed Clendaniel, San Jose Mercury News opinion page writer; Dana Nachman, NBC 11 special projects producer; and myself.

Ed spoke about getting op-ed pieces published in a newspaper. He said that the Mercury News gets about 20,000 op-ed submissions a year for less than 1,000 publication spots–a <5% publication rate. His suggestions for improving the odds:

* "don't bore me"

* the editors can't do very much editing of pieces, so the articles should match the newspaper's style--relevant topic, evoke an emotional response (be compelling, express an opinion), have an insight

* be conversational and use anecdotes

* 650 word limit means 650 words!

Personally, I found the whole idea of op-eds a little anachronistic. I've written a few op-eds in my day, but my blog has effectively usurped that writing role for me. My blog may not have as big an audience as a major newspaper, but I get instant access to the conversation and complete control of my words. In the past, there used to be enhanced validation/credibility by getting an op-ed into a major paper, but I just don't feel that's too important (at least for me) any more.

Dana spoke about interviewing with TV reporters. She explained that a typical news story gets about 75 seconds of airtime, so most interviewers get 5-20 seconds of that. Unlike Ed, she said that TV reporters *don't like* anecdotes because they usually take too long and can't be aired. TV reporters also hate it when interviewees say "As I said before..." in the middle of a thought, because that thought can't be aired. To avoid this, TV reporters generally don't like chit-chatting about the story before the camera is rolling. She said that after the interviews, most reporters transcribe the interview, circle the useful soundbites and use the rest as background material for the story. She said that if an interviewee really wants to convey a particular message, the interviewee should just keep repeating it (but don't say "As I said before!").

I spoke about how blogs have helped increase my exposure to reporters in at least three ways:

1) Reporters routinely use search engines to find sources, so my blog acts as a “magnet” for attracting those reporters. In some cases, reporters will quote the blog directly without even speaking with me. Further, my blog lends some internal credibility to my authority as a source.

2) Blog readers act as a type of distributed referral network, regularly referring reporters to me.

3) Reporters may become subscribers to my blog, in which case they may regularly report on stories I write about and quote my blog/contact me for more quotes.

I also noted that, by participating in the blogosphere, I could get access to websites such as Slashdot and Digg where the visibility of being linked may rival or exceed the exposure from being quoted in the mainstream media Given the choice between a quote in the NY Times or a link from Slashdot, I’d likely take the Slashdot link!

I did sound a few cautionary notes about blogging for professors. It’s time-consuming; not everyone has a blogging personality; and there are a variety of risks (legal, reputational, and ruffled feathers).