How to Pitch Story Ideas to BBC Tech Correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones

Rory Cellan-Jones
Photo provided by 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.

Rory Cellan-Jones is a prominent British journalist. In this summary of an exclusive podcast interview him him, he provides invaluable lessons for media relations professionals. His extensive tech reporting experience underscores the importance of keeping abreast of industry trends.

He emphasizes the need for concise and engaging press releases that cater to a fast-paced media environment. His preferred engagement platform is X (formerly known as Twitter). Media relations experts who read this article or listen to podcast will learn from Cellan-Jones’s ability to adapt to evolving media landscapes and maintain a strong online connection to their audiences, whether its consumers, business customers, or journalists.

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.

Promoting New Apps

Full Video Interview:

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 press, TV and radio, the BBC has greatly expanded its media coverage 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 a global audience.

In this podcast interview, Rory talks about how prefers to work with public relations agencies, how many PR firms pitches he receives daily, and how he sifts through the noise to identify the important news stories worth covering.

What Makes a Tech Story Idea 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, which he said was great for reputation management, because you saw news break there first. He gets contacted by media PR firms on Twitter fairly regularly.

Rory also noted the changing dynamic of audience feedback to stories and how that impacts the practice of writing story headlines. “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 and engages influencers.

PR Agency Story Pitches

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Despite his years of experience in breaking and reporting editorial news 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 responsible reporter stays informed, and unsurprisingly, Rory is no exception. He is an ardent reader of articles in the Financial Times, the New York Times, the MIT Technology Review, and other news sites. “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 story pitches that come from a PR agencies and publicists, 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.”

Promoting Truth in Journalism

Full Video Interview:

To listen to my full interview with Rory (in which we tackled other important topics, click the link at the top of the post to listen to my interview with Rory Cellan-Jones.

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