What do journalists find annoying?

July 14, 2023

Often people feel nervous about approaching journalists, particularly when they haven't done media relations work before. It can feel quite intimidating to ask a journalist to write about your story or organisation. There are some things journalists find annoying but don’t let that put you off. By understanding what not to do, you can plan your communications to avoid these pitfalls. In this blog, we're going to explore a few things journalists can find annoying – so you can avoid them in your future media relations outreach.

You tried to insert yourself into an article they’ve already written

Something that happens quite often is people get in touch with a journalist asking for their product or brand to be added into an article they’ve just had published. While it happens with all types of articles, it’s particularly common with gift guides or roundup pieces. A PR person spots a piece their client would have been perfect for and asks for them to be added in after the fact.

This is something that’s happened to me in the past following a feature I’d written. Depending how the request is positioned, it can be off-putting. There’s a difference between asking a journalist to add your organisation into a piece that’s already been published vs letting them know you could help with similar stories in future. The first is, frankly, a bit annoying. While the second shows you’ve enjoyed their piece and explains how you could add value to future stories. But if you ask a journalist to amend a story that’s already been published so it includes you, you're likely to get on their nerves.

You clearly don’t understand what they write about

This is one of the reasons I recommend having smaller, more targeted media lists rather than blasting a press release out to anyone you can think of. It’s usually pretty obvious when this happens. Firstly, it’s usually a generic copy-and-paste email which doesn’t reference why their angle might be right for this particular journalist. Often, the topic isn’t something they cover either. And sometimes they even get the journalist’s name wrong – or have the dreaded greeting: Hi First Name. When this happens to me, the press release usually goes straight into my trash folder. But watch out: journalists do remember the people that repeatedly contact them with irrelevant content.

Before you pitch, please read the titles you want to get in touch with. Tailor your press list to make sure the contacts on there are relevant. Sending out a generic email far-and-wide can be a waste of your time. I can get on the journalists’ nerves and can harm your reputation if you’re a repeat offender.

Asking to approve their article pre-publication

Internally, communications teams are used to a press release or marketing material going through several rounds of approval. But bear in mind that journalists are writing editorial pieces. These will not come back to you for approval before publication. There are a few exceptions: when a case study has been interviewed under the agreement they will have ‘read back’ of their story before it’s published (agreed in advance); when you’ve paid for an advertisement or advertorial; or if it’s a complex story and the journalist wants to make sure they’ve got all the details factually correct.

Asking for edits when there’s no incorrect facts

In the instances when a journalist does ask for you to review their article before it goes live, please be aware this is usually for fact checking purposes only. If they’ve got information wrong or their article is in some way misleading, you can, of course, ask for mistakes to be corrected. But some PR people get carried away: asking to add more key messages or to rephrase certain sections because they don’t like the writing style. When a journalist offers you the courtesy of reading their piece before it comes out, please only request necessary changes.

Pitching a journalist via several channels at once

Bombarding a journalist in the hope they’ll get back to you if you contact them via several channels isn't recommended either. I’ve heard of writers who received a PR pitch via email, a tweet to let them know they’d sent it, a copy of the pitch via DM and a call to ensure they’d received the information. It’s understandable you don’t want them to miss your pitch. But hounding them will make them notice you for the wrong reasons.

Using their personal contact details

Some journalists will have separate email addresses and phone numbers for work and personal issues. These ‘additional’ personal details can sometimes find their way onto media databases alongside the work contact details. But if you haven’t had permission from the journalist to use them, I’d recommend sticking to their official contact details. There’s nothing worse than leaving your work phone at home while you’re spending time with family or friends and having a PR call you up out of the blue. Especially when it’s not urgent!

You let them down

If you’ve promised to provide something to a journalist – whether it’s an interview, quote or further information – letting them down at the last minute puts them in a real bind. As a writer, it’s stressful to be on deadline only to find the information you’re waiting on from a PR person isn’t coming through after all. When this happens, you have to scramble around to try and find a replacement. Usually with very little time left to finish the article. If you’re not able to help a journalist with their request – or you thought you could but something has changed – let them know at the earliest opportunity. At least that way they can make alternative arrangements.

“Did you receive my press release?”

I'm not sure if this is something that happens anymore – I hope it doesn't. But when I was in my early agency days, it was fairly standard that junior PR execs would follow up a press release with a call to see if the journalist could cover it. “Hi there, did you get my press release? Is this story of interest?”

I’m sure you can imagine how well this goes down. The news desks can receive hundreds of press releases each day. So, that’s also hundreds of follow up calls to check they received the email. It’s usually a bit of a waste of everyone’s time. And is definitely one of the things journalists find annoying.

There may be occasions when you need to put in a follow up call - to check in on the offer of an exclusive or because you genuinely think a title has missed a story that’s relevant to them. But try not to make a habit of ringing round every title just to see if they received your email. More often than not, it just gets on their nerves.

I hope you found this light-hearted roundup a helpful insight into the common practices journalists find annoying. By avoiding these pitfalls, you’ll give yourself a better chance of building positive relationships with your media contacts. Good luck with your press outreach. If you need further support, feel free to book a PR Power Hour or Ask Me Anything session with me.

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