Wednesday, April 18, 2007

When the Bylines Go Bye Bye

I found out in the process of pitching a story today that the Grand Rapids Business Journal's Tim Gortsema and Elizabeth Sanders are "no longer with us," to quote the receptionist at Gemini Publications.

That terse bureau-speak usually gets one's mind wondering what happened. Turns out nothing major.

Later, Editor Carole Valada informed me that Elizabeth followed her husband out of state for a new job, and Tim is on sabbatical. "I just tell you that so you don't worry," she said. "It's really only intereting to PRSA."

Well, yes it is. And everyone else who pitches stories only occasionally. Especially when reporters and editors don't return every phone call or email--we're told not to pester them, they get lots of messages and can't respond to all of them--it would be nice to know if they are gone and our good story ideas aren't resting in voicemail/email purgatory.

How hard would it be to mention their own personnel news in the their "Change Ups" section? Other media have the same problem. I once got chewed out by the 'new' health reporter for not alerting her to a story. I reminded her that I had sent an email and left a voicemail and faxed an advisory to the old health reporter, who had left the building. But they never disconnected old voicemail and email accounts. TV and radio are especially bad at this--they tout their "personalities" but do little to announce changes, except for anchors. The Press carries a column by Colleen Pierson called "Broadcast Notes" that discusses such moves, but not their own reporters.

In my PR career, I introduced myself to reporters when I was new in a job. And I sent an alert when I was leaving one. I did the same thing when I was a journalist with all my beat contacts. That's because the relationships matter. It is both common courtesy and common sense for media to share their personnel moves, and not just with PR pros. While they hate to admit it, they depend on information from PR pros (this is called "news subsidy" and has been studied for years--don't tell me it ain't so). It's in their best interest to inform us all when editor duties or beat structures change.

But the community at large also cares about this. TIME magazine was among the first to use bylines on stories because they felt the readers needed to know who was writing these articles as a matter of interest and credibility. Readers today notice who's writing, and will likely wonder when that byline goes by-bye. In an era of declining readership, you'd think area media outlets would get that.

1 comment:

Jennifer said...

Absolutely! I've encountered the same thing quite frequently.