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Online Newsrooms Save the Media 
Time and Frustration

by Marcia Yudkin

In 2000, when web site usability guru Jakob Nielsen tested how well major corporate sites met the needs of reporters, he gave them a "D" grade. Journalists who visited sites for him located basic information such as the companies' financials, management team, commitment to social responsibility and a phone number for a PR contact only 60 percent of the time.

Online newsrooms have improved a bit in the intervening time, but they still fall short.  In a 2009 survey of journalists by TEKgroup International, 43% said it was difficult to find a company's newsroom, and more than half said it was hard to find the name of the company's media contact and how to reach him or her.

By providing media-friendly materials on demand 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, you increase the odds of someone writing about you, using photos you've supplied and doing so with accuracy.  Follow these best practices to make sure the process meshes with the needs of journalists.

Be Findable

Media people often start their hunt for a particular company's newsroom at its home page.  So the best way to help them find it is to have a major navigation link called simply "News," "Press" or "Media."  Second best is to offer the information the media need in the "About the Company" section of the web site.

Either way, when you include obvious signage in the structure of the web site, people can head there quickly from any page of the web site.

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Components of Your Newsroom

Your online newsroom should contain, at a bare minimum:

  • An organizational profile, including company history
  • Names and bios of principals and executives of your organization
  • A PR contact with name, email address and telephone number
  • Press releases, presented with the most recent first
  • Downloadable photos of products and key personnel

Optional extras for your newsroom include:

  • Online versions of recent annual reports, case studies and white papers
  • Statements about relevant controversial issues currently in the news
  • Suggested angles for feature stories including your organization
  • Sample questions for talk show hosts
  • Links to pertinent studies, statistics and news stories
  • Links to previous coverage you've enjoyed
  • Prewritten use-as-is stories or tips
  • Audio or video clips
  • Social media options - links to your blogs, Twitter feeds, Facebook page, etc.
  • Event calendar
  • Opportunity to sign up for RSS feeds and breaking news alerts

Online Newsroom Best Practices

The more lively the style in which all of the above comes across, the more likely you are to get journalists passing through to stay awhile and start thinking about how they can use what you've provided. Corporate-speak may please internal bosses, but it gets in the way here and may even provide fodder for the many sites that make fun of pretentious marketing blather.

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Provide as much of the written material as possible in HTML format, rather than in PDF documents.  Because one cannot cut and paste names and quotes from PDFs, media people regard companies providing publicity material in that form as clueless.

Keep in mind that on the web, media from all over the world and from outside of your industry can access your press room, so avoid acronyms and insert the kinds of background explanations that would be found in a quality news story. Dates are especially important to present unambiguously. Jakob Nielsen reported a case where a European reporter dismissed a company's news as old because it was dated 10-3-2000, which to him meant March 10 rather than the intended October 3.

Do not require journalists to register to gain access to your newsroom. That sends the message that you're disinclined to be helpful to the media.  

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Another red flag to the media is a web contact form rather than names, email addresses and telephone numbers for a company's media contact people.  The form signals "maybe we'll get back to you in two weeks," which doesn't work for reporters or fact checkers on deadline, while the detailed contact information conveys readiness to respond right away.

Copyright 2010 Marcia Yudkin.  All rights reserved.

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