Don't Be Shy About Doing Research on Journalists

Last Updated Jan 24, 2008 12:39 PM EST

If you were going in to a major sales meeting, you'd want to know everything possible about the potential customer: their likes and dislikes, their career history, their interests, and so on. It would be no-brainer. And the same is true for most other business meetings with important people from other organizations, be they attorneys, partners, competitors, government regulators -- even journalists. Yet journalists always express surprise when they find out that we prepare for our meetings with them.

Why this would even be an issue is something of a mystery to me. Of course a sophisticated corporation is going to want to minimize its risks and maximize the opportunity for success by developing background briefing materials on the reporter they are going to meet, and to do some planning about how to handle the interaction. They'd be fools to do otherwise.

Journalists, on the other hand, seem to want to believe that they work in a perfect world. That the people contributing their time and thoughts toward the production of their story are doing so, I don't know, out of the goodness of their hearts. Or maybe out of simple naivete. That they should be able to get their story without interference or "spin."

What prompts this little rant is the tempest that blew up when Waggener Edstrom, the main outside PR agency for Microsoft, mistakenly emailed a copy of a briefing document to Fred Vogelstein of Wired magazine, who was working on a major story about Microsoft's internal blogging initiative. Wired posted the full briefing document (or "dossier" in Vogelstein's hush-hush language) on its site. Vogelstein likened reading the document to "reading my FBI file." Oh please.

Would an attorney say that about the briefing docs prepared by the other side in a major case? Would a major customer say that about the briefing docs prepared by a supplier hoping to win their business? I don't think so. It might make you squirm to read about yourself and see what others think about you, but grow up -- you're a reporter for a major magazine. This isn't Little League.

My take? WaggEd's briefing doc is run-of-the-mill PR work. Documents like this are being written every single day in the PR business. This is what we do. (If you're interested in WaggEd's view, here's a link to their post).

One of the comments on Wired wondered this: "there could be dossier's for every darn a-lister out there and its not come out yet!!"
There is. It's called NewsBios. It's a great service that compiles background information on key business journalists. You should check it out. Here's a link to a sample of their materials.

  • Jon Greer

    Jon Greer has been analyzing media and PR for more than 25 years. He's been a journalist and a PR executive, and has been a featured speaker for many years at the Bulldog Reporter Media Relations Summit, and served as Bulldog's Editorial Director for their PR University series of weekly how-to audio conferences.

    Jon provides PR services including media relations and freelance writing to clients including start-ups, law firms, corporations, investment banks and venture capital firms. In addition, Jon provides spokesperson training. Learn more about Jon's training programs at The Media Bridge.