Newsroom remodeling: Avoid the common pitfalls of online press sections

by | Apr 13, 2016 | Journalism, Media, News Release Distribution, Public Relations, Traditional Media

Given all the challenges in reaching out to journalists, it’s surprising how many organizations fall short when it comes to setting up their online newsrooms. If the journalist is coming to you, they shouldn’t have to jump through hoops to get the information they’re looking for. A poorly organized media section can also be a waste of your time, because it might prompt a journalist to call for material they could just as easily obtain themselves.

Based on my own experience and my conversations with other journalists, here are the most common problems with online newsrooms—and some suggestions for improvement.

The newsroom is hard to find. Ideally, the home page should have an easily identifiable link to the press section. It doesn’t necessarily have to be in the main navigation bar—putting it in the footer or an “About” or “Company” menu is OK—but I shouldn’t have to click through multiple screens to find it. Also, be sure it’s labeled unambiguously—if I see a link that just says “News,” I don’t know if that’s news for the public or a news section for journalists. Instead, give it a name like “Newsroom” or “Media Center.” If you’re concerned about getting queries from the general public, make it clear that the section is for media use only. Apple’s website provides a good example.

It’s difficult to navigate. The newsroom itself should be designed in a functional manner. Don’t make me hunt for the information I want. Be sure links are clearly labeled. Organize press releases in a logical manner, with full text searches and archives in case I want historical info. And be sure the latest press releases are posted as soon as they go out.

Press contacts are not identified. Don’t just give me a generic email address — or worse, a contact form to complete. Give me the name, title, phone number and email address for each media contact. If it’s a large organization, I’ll also want to see each contact’s beat area or specialty. At a minimum, contact info should be in the press releases posted on the site. If I can’t find a contact list, my next step is to look for a recent press release on a topic related to my query. (If you’re concerned about exposing email addresses to spambots, many techniques are available to thwart them, such as JavaScript encoding. Personally, I prefer phone numbers anyway—I usually call first, then send an email if the PR rep requests one.)

Media resources are limited. The newsroom should provide easy access to high-quality photos of products and executives. If you’re concerned about inappropriate use of artwork, require the journalist to agree to terms of use before they can download the photo. Again, Apple provides a good model here. It’s also helpful to include backgrounders, product sheets and other resources.

Registration is required. Don’t make me set up an account just to see press contacts or press releases, and don’t compound the hassle by forcing me to wait for approval. I can understand putting some press materials behind a registration wall, but not the basics.

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