Everyone’s a Reporter

Napoleon Bonaparte reportedly said, “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.” Imagine how miserable he would have been in the era of bloggers.

Journalism textbooks may be filled with case studies of politicians and celebrities undone by reporters –from Richard Nixon to John Edwards, from Tiger Woods to Lance Armstrong.

But it wasn’t the traditional media that brought down Mitt Romney, Anthony Weiner, or Toronto Mayor Rob Ford; at least, not singlehandedly. Romney’s presidential campaign was derailed by a bartender with a hidden video camera. Weiner’s career effectively ended with his own famous tweets of his own infamous private parts. And make no mistake; it wasn’t just crack cocaine that brought about Mayor Ford’s fall from grace. It was the YouTube clips vividly depicting his indulgences.

In the new media age, reporters no longer wear fedoras adorned with cards that read “Press.” They may not even wear laminated credentials around their necks. But that doesn’t mean reporters are hard to pick out. It’s easier than ever to spot them, and that’s because in the new media age, everyone is a reporter.

The first reports of the emergency landing known as the “Miracle on the Hudson” arrived seconds after the airplane did, via Twitter.  And when Asiana flight 214 crash-landed at San Francisco Airport last year, the best pictures came from passengers who, unfortunately for them, had the kind of access that no press photographer could ever hope for.

It may seem daunting to develop a media strategy that regards everyone as a potential journalist. In reality, it’s rather simple. Fortunately for PR professionals, the same media training rules that apply when engaging a local TV news reporter tend to work just as well with a blogger, or a teenager with a popular YouTube channel. Some tips:

You’re Always On the Record

Adopt the mindset that everyone has a TV network and a printing press in his pocket. It may feel as though you are dealing directly with an angry customer, a local voter or a friendly competitor. Just remember that each one of those people has the means to take your message to the masses, whether you want that or not. Put another way, don’t say or write anything you wouldn’t want to see retweeted.

Use Your Media Skills

Effective media communicators use time-tested techniques such as brevity, bridging and branding to turn answers into messages. These tactics shouldn’t be abandoned just because there’s no news van in sight. Speaking in clear sound bites will help minimize the possibility that your words are taken out of context should they go viral.

Proceed With Caution

Sitting down with a blogger? Remember that they often play by their own rules. While many are highly trained, respectable professionals whose careers predate the Internet, others lack the education, experience and scruples of their counterparts in the traditional media. Talking to a reporter always requires professional discipline, but it’s more important than ever in the new media age.

It is impossible to ignore “citizen journalists” and unnecessary to fear them. But remember what’s at stake. Now that everyone’s a reporter, one wrong move could be your PR Waterloo.