The new normal. Oh, how I hate that term. There is nothing normal about it. But whatever it is, we have learnt – or at least, are trying to learn – to navigate our way through it. There is chaos, but like our wise friends at Public Relations Professionals of India (PRPOI) believe, where there is chaos, there is innovation.
A few days ago, I was invited by PRPOI to participate in a panel discussion on how journalists and PR professionals can come together to bring a more coherent voice to the changing scenario. How we, as independent journalists, are trying to innovate and bring newer nuances to our work. And how they, as publicists, can work with us in tandem in order to facilitate a better working relationship for all of us in the media. Giving me company on this panel were two other independent writers, Joanna Lobo and Ruth Dsouza Prabhu while communication consultant Tarunjeet Rattan moderated the session.
With 17 years of journalism experience in my kitty – I’m just a little more than a year old in writing independently – there is the notion I have often come across, that the more niche you go, the more you flourish. But in my personal experience, the innovation I bring to the journalism space is my ability to have my fingers in as many pies as possible.
With each new job at a different publication, I have kept on adding to the beats I covered. Starting as a city reporter, I went on to write on beats such as health, women’s issues, films, music, food, wellness, theatre, art and fashion among others. Today, I may write more on certain topics than others, but given a chance, I can competently write on all the above-mentioned topics. That diversification, I believe, has been my biggest strength, specially in today’s times when a number of publications are refusing work from freelance writers. With my ability to write on a variety of subjects, I can, therefore, pitch stories to many publications.
Over the years, I have worked closely with many publicists, resulting in some great interviews and features. PR professionals, I believe, can truly add value to our lives as journalists. We can be partners in stories – starting with the pitch, which is where it all starts from. A concise, thought-out story pitch is key to the conversation. That’s where a great story emerges from many times, when you can see the effort a PR person has put into pitching it.
Follow ups are important. As a freelance journalist, I have to follow up with editors about the pitches I send, and it can get frustrating to not receive an answer. So, I understand when a publicist wants to know whether a story is approved or not. I think as journalists, we need to become slightly more patient with publicists, and the latter should also show some restraint in following up. There has to be a meeting point.
Going ahead, it’s going to be tough times, both for PR professionals and independent writers. So, for the graduating class of 2020, my foremost advice would be to work in an office set-up, under seniors who can guide you and prepare you for when you want to go independent. Don’t be foolhardy and in a rush to start things on your own. Give it time and work hard at it.
Perhaps the one thing I would definitely add to the discussion is the need for more respect between independent journalists and PR professionals. Let us look at the latter as facilitators who are trying to make our jobs easier and be more responsive to them. Let the PRs look beyond the publications we pitch to and treat us with the respect our years of experience in the field deserves. It’s a two-way street and hopefully, we can walk together thereon.