At TopLine, we already feel like we know what journalists want. But we still thought it worth asking. So we spoke to 33 journalists working at the likes of the FT, BBC, Guardian, Times, Telegraph, Economist, New York Times, Wall St Journal and CNBC and they told us exactly what journalists want. Here’s what they said:

Journalists want comments on the stories of the day

We asked journalists whether they want to hear from organisations (and PR people) about the top stories of the day. And many of them do. But timing, being concise, relevance and quality of comment are important.

“Simple enough, really: I tend to want as much comment as possible, as quickly as possible. It’s no skin off my back to ignore/delete for stories I’m not covering, and when it’s useful, it’s very useful!”

Alex Hearn
UK technology editor
The Guardian

“I just archive this stuff [comments] in case I need to search my inbox later for someone to comment on a topic, all that matters to me are their qualifications to do so.”

Christopher Mims
Technology columnist
The Wall Street Journal

“There is never any harm sending stuff and obviously if the points being made are a new angle that makes it more attractive to use. If it is a story that is coming up, a note to say here’s so and so and here is what they can say is useful too. What is less useful is sending stuff after the story has been published as unlikely to add unless there is a really good reason to.”

Reporter
BBC

“Another turn-off is people not getting straight to the point, burying what they’re trying to say in an attachment.”

Specialist reporter
The Times

“Even better if it someone actually involved/affected by the story rather than just commenting.”

Andy Bounds
Enterprise editor and north of England correspondent
FT

“I’m always looking for comments for stories. When I get a few, I tend to pick the comments that work best for the story …. It just depends on the line I’m taking and how well something fits in or adds to it.”

Alice Haine
Business Correspondent – London Bureau
TheNational.ae

“Happy to give $0.02, but this is just me, not a policy. Journos generally just trust instinct about whether something is good or not.

“So – the reality is we get so many emails, and most of them are unusable, which is why PRs often don’t hear back at all.

“On major events, we often get unsolicited comment from someone in the game trying to sell something – that goes straight in the bin. For example, a cyber security firm whose comment amounts to nothing more than “X shows just how under threat consumers are and big tech has to do better. That’s why we’re committed….”

“It adds nothing of value. So-called “newsjacking” is useless, and frankly, insulting.

“We also don’t want people emailing us the day or several days after a story to offer their ‘perspective’. Literally yesterday’s news, but happens constantly.

“Good contributions like this are usually set up in advance – so the savvy big analyst firms will drop us a line and say: ‘Hey, if you’re covering event X we expect to happen later this week, we’ll have person Y available if you need reaction – let us know’. That means we can either ask them to send us instant reaction when it happens, or have someone ready to call when we realise we need an expert. But – and this is crucial – they only do it for big events and when they actually have an actual expert to offer!

“For true unexpected breaking news, the unexpected offers can be useful – but we’re probably only going to use one person, at most two, so speed is factor.

“So, to go back to your ‘A or B’ question – if you’re the first to reach us with the obvious insight (A), you might get picked up. But only if we actually need a talking head to do that job.

“And on ‘hard news’ we’re rarely interested in perspectives (B) – but would be more interested if there’s a wider story to be told or an interesting follow-on or related tangent.”

Senior journalist
BBC


“Only other bugbear is emails that blatantly show PR hasn’t read the paper, e.g. I thought you would like this for your education section (which we don’t have) or sending emails that have nothing to do with education. Thank you for asking.”

National newspaper specialist reporter

“But there are any times when I have been working on a feature about something else three months down the line, and I’m having trouble finding experts, and I think ‘I wonder if anyone has emailed me about this?’ And often there are some PR reaction emails that I didn’t use at the time, but which now provide a person to contact about a different issue. So it’s not worthless, even when it isn’t used for the story that provokes it.”

Reporter
The Telegraph

What journalists want is a different view or a new angle

Most of the journalists we spoke to said that they’re after a new dimension to the story, a different angle, or a quote from someone directly involved.

“I’d always prefer a comment that makes a good point which might not always be obvious, and that may shed new light on a story. I get a lot of commentary which could be filed under ‘blooming obvious’. Pithy analysis and quotes are what I’m after.”

Business correspondent
BBC

“Generic comments are unlikely to be helpful. Often we’ll be under pressure to find the ‘day two’ angle on a story so something that might move it on or provide a different perspective is typically more valuable than more of the same-type comments.

James Cook
Special Correspondent
The Telegraph

“If there’s breaking news it’s sometimes helpful to receive commentary that reflects what’s been said, to incorporate quotes when something needs to be posted quickly. But I’d always prefer new angles.”

Reporter
FT

“Comment should be related to the issue but add a bit more. We need to keep story length down so don’t add every comment. Getting your comment in early increases its chances.”

Reporter
BBC

“I appreciate the question. Whether or not reaction or commentary is useful for me for any given story, and what I need from it, is quite variable and contextual.

“If I had to pick one, I think new light and new perspective are usually most useful: if it’s something that has been said already, then it needs to be the best possible quote expressing a common view, whereas if it’s a new perspective it may be included simply because the journalist thinks it’s an important point to note.

“Alternatively, a direct stake in the issue or ability to speak with some authority can be enough reason to quote someone. Is this person/company directly involved or affected? Or have power or influence over the situation? Represent the views of key players?

“Common reasons I don’t use rapid reaction/commentary (though these won’t be news to you, I’m sure):

• “Obvious view or analysis likely already covered in my own contextual paragraphs about the story (‘it comes at a difficult time for x…’)”

• “Too tentative, cautious, bureaucratic, equivocating, fence-sitting, etc (tho obv caution is sometimes warranted)”

• “Focuses too much on what the speaker’s service or company can do, which is understandable but rarely relevant to the story”

• “Too much of a stretch, or too marginal to the issue – e.g. the speaker doesn’t really seem to have highly relevant expertise or influence”

• “Variant of the above: so much of a stretch as to be offensive, farcical, insensitive or all three”

• “Late”

Reporter
The Telegraph

“Thanks for asking. To answer both of your questions, I don’t use the canned comment that gets sent out on the back of every development. It’s often not particularly helpful and as it’s often done quickly, I’ve seen people send out emails withdrawing it or changing it too much to trust it. At least on my desk, we always interview and get our own quotes.

“What’s of more use is an email saying that so-and-so is available to comment on X issue, but more importantly, saying why we should talk to them, and why they have an opinion that’s worth relaying to readers. For instance, they have government/industry experience directly related to the area in question, or they’ve done some research on this specific issue and have valuable insights. There are too many experts out there who are given that moniker by dint of just being in the industry or having some military/civilian experience that’s unrelated and we rarely consider them as a result.

“Listing the other areas they’re well-suited to comment on helps also, I work on a range of stories and I often come back to people months later when I’m actually working on something they could be useful on (contrary to popular belief, we don’t just ignore pitches, it’s just that we tend to only respond to the ones that are relevant in that moment given the volume we receive).”

Reporter
International news website

“Much better to have a different point of view.”

Business journalist
BBC

“I rarely, if ever, want commentary that just echoes what’s already been said, especially if it’s a day after the news breaks. If I’m writing a follow-up, then it will be moving the story on so comments well after the news is breaking generally need to find or respond to a new angle.

A national newspaper reporter

“New perspectives/light would be good.”

News reporter
Mail Online

“And I’m pretty much only interested in reach outs when someone has a legitimately novel set of facts or is calling attention to something that I haven’t been following closely but should be.”

Reporter
Wall Street Journal

“We usually get lots of emails the day after a story runs offering commentary that says nothing new. That’s pretty useless. Sometimes I write a scoop and then get emails from PR people saying, “Patrick, you may have seen the news that…” — which is sort of infuriating! Good PR emails are personalised, not sent to 1,000 of us. I’m often in need of breaking insights – like within an hour of a company’s earnings. No use sending thought on Peloton a day after I’ve covered. And ye .that’s what happens.

“Definitely regards ques 2, though it’s more the opposite — I remember the good commentary and am more inclined to open that. I have to ignore most of my inbox anyway.

“I always tell PR people to sell me on the trend, not the company. Most companies are waaaay too small for me to write about their news – but if you sell me on the wider story where I can write about 3-4 companies doing X and Y, you can sell me on why your client should be the lead example.”

Patrick McGee
San Francisco Correspondent
FT

Some journalists want you to get to know them

Rather than just sending your pitch or your comment out blindly and hoping for coverage, some journalists want you to get to know them. It’s worth the investment as you will be educated on what that journalist wants, which will put you in a better position to tailor your comments to their requirements.

“If an organisation wants to be quoted in the FT, the relevant expert should build a relationship with the relevant journalist. We don’t use stuff that gets emailed all around, because that would make us the same as all the other newspapers…”

Malcolm Moore
Technology news editor
FT

“On CNBC.com’s tech desk, we generally don’t take pitches for reaction or comment on breaking news. We’re looking to break news, and once it happens, our reporters have their own sources they can call for comment and analysis.

“I can’t speak for other parts of the organization, however. There may be other news teams here who are happy to consider these kinds of pitches.”

CNBC

What journalists don’t want…is spam

Some will be harsher than others when it comes to unsolicited pitches, but spamming journalists with high volumes of low value emails won’t get you very far.

“I’m not going to put someone on my blacklist just because they appear in my inbox, feel free to send.”

Reporter
International news website

“Everyone has a huge inbox and no one is looking for more spam.”

Malcolm Moore
Technology news editor
FT

“When a PR person sends me more than 2 emails in a row on a chain I automatically mark their address as spam and, presto-change-o, gmail never shows me anything from them again.”

Christopher Mims
Technology columnist
The Wall Street Journal

“I would ignore contributions if orgs *constantly* sent me untargeted and badly thought through stuff, but there are only a few repeat offenders on this score! The stuff you’ve sent recently for example has been useful and targeted so I would generally read…”

Reporter
FT

“I think PRs that send lots of stuff get ignored as it just seems a bit desperate.”

Emma Jacobs
Work & careers columnist
FT

“And yes – if organisations repeatedly send crap, I de-prioritise reading their emails. Some journos I know have tens of thousands of unread emails – we just get too much to treat every single one equally.”

Senior journalist
BBC

“Yes – a lot of it gets ignored. Especially if I get sent anything domestic, as I work on an international programme.”

Business journalist
BBC

“I never pay any attention to commentary that comes via a PR source and have never responded to an invitation!”

John Naughton
Freelance columnist

“Thank you for the questions. I just don’t think that we are typical. So the answers not really helpful. I do ignore most of what gets sent to me, we rely on our own enterprise.”

Senior journalist
The Economist

“Repeated asks are mildly annoying and occasionally result in a blocked email address.”

Reporter
Wall Street Journal


“I ignore 99.9% of unsolicited PR emails because they come from people I have no reason to trust and/or they do not give me information that breaks news. I only responded to this email because the term ‘quick question’ is one I often use in email subject lines.”

Reporter
Wall Street Journal

“Repeatedly getting comment I can’t use isn’t a black mark against an organisation, as I don’t expect people to read my mind and get me perfect stuff! But if I receive a lot of comment on stories which are way outside my job and beat, then yes I will generally unsubscribe as I presume I’m either on the wrong list, or the person sending it hasn’t looked my job up – I don’t cover any business/econ stories yet get dozens of comments daily on it, for example.”

National newspaper reporter

A huge thanks to all 33 journalists who responded to our questions!

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