How to Pitch BBC Technology Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones
Rory Cellan-Jones is a technology correspondent for the BBC. He has covered numerous groundbreaking tech and business stories across the decades, from the late ‘90s dotcom bubble all the way to the rise of Google, Facebook, and the iPad.
Often described as “the non-geek’s geek,” he aims to look at the impact of the internet and digital technology on our lives and on businesses. He started out exclusively as a domestic news and business reporter for TV; nowadays, he reaches a much wider audience, and even does a weekly radio show.
Close to celebrating a hundred years of operations, the BBC is the premier mass media institution in the UK, as well as the world’s oldest national broadcaster. From being a dominant presence in TV and radio, the BBC has greatly expanded its presence and reach across various platforms and regions, an institution built into the fabric of British society that strives to deliver balanced, impartial news and the truth to its ever-growing viewership.
In this podcast interview, Rory talks about how prefers to work with public relations agencies, how many PR firms pitch him dails, and how he sifts through the noise to identify the important stories worth covering.
What makes a tech story newsworthy?
These days, Rory closely coordinates with their online team through scheduled meetings, keeping a close eye on what’s trending on social media to identify and monitor stories that are resonating with audiences. Rory recalled being an early adopter of Twitter (@ruskin147), which he said was “great for one’s reputation internally, because you saw stuff there long before any of your colleagues [did].” He gets contacted ny media PR firms on Twitter fairly regularly.
Rory also noted the changing dynamic of audience feedback to stories. “You change your headline on an online story, you can immediately see, yeah, there are more people [reading] that story than there were before,” he explained. This is interesting because it shows that how the news is reported is now colored by audience feedback. It’s not enough to report the news accurately. It must be done in a way that dovetails with social media engagement.
Despite his years of experience in breaking and reporting stories that matter, Rory affirmed that determining whether or not a tech story is newsworthy remains a complex, bespoke process. “There are different stories for different audiences,” says Rory, “and one can say, ‘That is a story that will work online, on our tech index, where people come who have pretty good grounding in technology, but that will not make for the nightly news.” He cited the story of Steve Jobs unveiling the iPhone as an example. “I stuck my neck out and said, ‘Well, I think that was a story. I think that history will show that was an important moment.’” And true enough, it turned out to be an incredibly important moment in the history of the smartphone revolution.
Consuming media and working with PR firms
A good reporter stays informed, and unsurprisingly, Rory is no exception. He is an ardent reader of the Financial Times, the New York Times, the MIT Technology Review, and other publications. “The real challenge is information overload: being able to actually sit back and properly absorb something rather than just skimming, in a desperate hop from one link to another,” Rory admitted.
One area where Rory definitely experiences overload? His inbox, which receives about 300 emails a day, including an “unbelievable” number of pitches from publicists at public relations firms.
“Every now and then, I feel guilty, because I don’t reply to most of the pitches I get. But then, when I try and clear my inbox at the end of the week, I realize that if I replied, I would literally do nothing else,” he revealed.”The sheer volume of PR material – and a lot of it really, really badly targeted – is becoming almost impossible to cope with.” In fact, Rory estimated that out of a dozen pitches that come from a PR agency or marketing firm, only one or two would actually count as legitimate, newsworthy pieces.
According to Rory, he tends to build strong professional relationships with two or three really good PR companies (often people at in-house PR departments) who will only approach you with something that’s worth the effort of turning into a piece for television or online. “The trouble is, as one gets older and tighter and more cynical, there’s a real danger that you miss the really good things.”
To listen to my full interview with Rory (in which we tackled other important topics such as the global infodemic, unbiased news sources, and the possible reasons why the US has such a high pandemic death toll), click the link at the top of the post. Subscribe to the Earned Media Podcast for more on the latest development in earned media marketing.
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