A Freelancer’s POV on Reporting During a Pandemic
August 25, 2020
Throughout the pandemic, reporters that traditionally covered one beat were assigned to cover a number of pandemic-related topics — later, this was the case with topics related to diversity, equity and inclusion.
For example, Khadeeja Safdar at the Wall Street Journal, was responsible for covering America’s largest retailers pre-pandemic. Safdar now publishes stories about hospitals in the U.S. are running out of personal protective equipment and how young doctors are struggling to treat COVID-19 patients.
Another reporter who shifted their focus over the past few months is the experienced freelance writer and editor, Esther Shein. Shein specializes in business, technology and education topics contributing to almost every major tech and business publication such as: ZDNet, TechRepublic, Forbes, Inc., TechTarget, CIO.com, InformationWeek and SC Magazine. As if that is not enough, she also finds time to advise and edit college essays through her firm, Exceptional Essays.
I recently asked Shein if she would sit down and answer some questions about how her job has changed since the pandemic and how she continues to work with communications professionals throughout one of the most tumultuous times in modern history.
“When the pandemic began, I wrote a lot about the challenges of remote working, IT burnout, technologies enabling remote working, video conferencing, virtual conference etiquette and, most recently, the fact that many workers don’t want to go back to an office and that many companies are letting people stay remote either indefinitely or permanently,” said Shein.
Interestingly, when I asked Shein how the non-COVID-19-related coverage compares in terms of performance, she said anecdotally: “stories I’ve written about getting people to take vacations/staycations during the pandemic and anything related to maps have done well.” Shein has readjusted her understanding of the ‘who cares’ of storytelling and is more cognizant of ensuring that her stories resonate with what is trending in the news.
Shein and I also spoke about her work with communications professionals over the course of the pandemic. I personally have seen many reporters, mostly on Twitter, express their distaste for tone-deaf pitches. These tone-deaf pitches from PR professionals are not new – it is why reporters ignore us and refer to PR professionals as ‘flacks’. Those in this industry who do not take the time to analyze who they are pitching and craft unique narratives in alignment with their adjusted coverage areas and their audience’s interests perpetuate the negative perception of PR professionals.
Shein does not mince words when she stresses the importance of this: “know what people’s beats are. I get some pretty outrageous pitches, as well as pitches completely unrelated to what I cover. It shows that people aren’t doing their homework in terms of who I write for and what I typically cover.”
Eventually, we’ll return to a time when the media landscape is not hyper-focused on stories focused on politics and pandemics; however, until then, it is of the utmost importance that PR professionals — the good ones, at least — don’t forget to constantly educate themselves on the state of the media and continue to apply the basic principles of relevance and resonance to their pitches.