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Posted on 01.26.2011

MEDIA MATTERS: Advice from World-Class Journalists and Intriguing Media Minds

Sree Sreenivasan is Dean of Student Affairs & digital media professor at Columbia Journalism School and contributing editor for DNAinfo.com, a hyperlocal Manhattan news site he helped launch in 2009 with Joe Ricketts, the founder of Ameritrade and new owner of the Chicago Cubs & Wrigley Field. The site was named one of BusinessInsider's top six news startups of 2010.  Sree is a frequent guest on NPR on the subject of digital media.  We talked about the kinds of news skills being taught at one of the best J-schools in the U.S. Q. What’s being learned in Journalism schools has changed dramatically.  What kind of journalist is Columbia training? A. At Columbia we teach everyone the new digital skills that are crucial to success, but continue to emphasize traditional reporting, story-telling and fact-checking.  We want to turn every journalist into a "tra-digital journalist" in the perfect coinage of Prof. Sig Gissler, the administrator of the Pulitzer Prizes. That means a traditional reporter with a digital overlay.  They’ve got to have all the traditional values and skills that it takes to collect the information and digest it.  Then they have to be able to put it into new forms – reaching multiple audiences who want to receive their information in varying ways. Q. Have the old-school professors at Columbia embraced new media?  I’m trying to picture some of these hard-core, long-time profs teaching digital media.
A. You’d be surprised.  While it doesn’t make sense to take all the professors and transform them into tweeters, some of our most experienced teachers are completely committed to making sure that the journalists we’re producing not only have in-depth knowledge about their subject matter but also have the necessary digital skillset and a digital mindset. Q. What are some words of wisdom to PR practitioners in their quest to better connect with reporters? A. PR people have got to get a digital mindset themselves.  I’m surprised at how many PR people are behind the curve, compared to journalists.  They should be leading the journalists, not the other way around.  They’ve got to think like a journalist and then figure out how to overcome a reporter’s information overload. Journalists are on Twitter and Facebook and they’re revealing what they’re working on, so you can be relevant when you pitch them. Take advantage of that.  Think like a reporter and don’t make the mistake of pitching something that is totally unrelated to what they’re working on.  And don’t send an attachment.  Most reporters are on the run, checking for information on their BlackBerrys and iPhones…and they aren’t going to open an attachment. I was in a meeting with Les Hinton, publisher of the Wall Street Journal, and he said, “The scarcest resource of the 21st century is human attention.”  I couldn’t agree more.  Those who figure out how to get a sliver of that human attention are going to stay in business and succeed.  Everyone else will disappear. Q. Any other advice to those of us who are constantly battling to get the human attention of a reporter?
A. Be a student of the change that is happening in every part of the communications industry.  If you are a working communications professional, you better keep up.  Just a few of my favorite regular reads are:  www.mashable.com, www.paidcontent.org and www.lifehacker.com. Follow Sree on Twitter or get digital media tips on his SreeTips Facebook page.

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