The Friendly Chat: Sally Whittle

Sally Whittle is a freelance business and HR journalist. She became a gun for hire after having her ideals crushed by one evil corporation too many.

Today, Sally writes about everything from computers to training and charities. Her clients include newspapers, magazines, websites and commercial organisations.

She is part of the:101 editorial training group. This is a loose affiliation of journalists who provide training for PR professionals in how to work more effectively with the media.

She also runs the Getting Ink blog to discuss some of the issues she comes across in her work.

How did you become interested in blogging?

When I started out in journalism nearly ten years ago, relationships were very much about personal communications – talking to people, meeting them and cultivating relationships. Then I started noticing how technology was changing the way journalists and PRs interacted.

It became more about mass emails and ResponseSource (the enquiries system that matches journalists and PRs looking for complementary coverage). This meant more information – a lot more – but less relationship.

I was also struck by how little thought was going into how this was being done. The actual message between journalists and PRs was being lost among the noise of information.

So, I was part of the team which set up the:101 group. We run courses explaining to PRs how journalists work, what makes a good pitch, and how to establish good, productive working relationships. The blog came about as a nice way to establish a bit of two-way dialogue, so that we could share ideas among the community.

So do you think social media is making this situation better or worse?

Right now – worse! But hopefully better in future.

Worse because people are just finding that this is a new way in which to spam journalists. Really, the amount of information coming through is staggering. And this does make the PRs job harder too, because they don’t stand out.

However, I am optimistic. I hope the situation will improve when people start filtering and tweaking and getting back to more quality rather than quantity.

Who are better at blogging – PRs or journalists?

PRs. I find them more imaginative. They embrace multimedia more, with feeds, audio, video, podcasts and so on. I think this is possibly because they’re experimenting, playing around with the technology on behalf of clients. And they’re just more fun.

A lot of journalists can be quite dry and academic. They seem to regard copy on screen as analogous to copy on paper. This is true to an extent, but does not embrace all that blogging could be.

Which are your best blog posts in terms of gaining response?

A controversial post stirs things up. These are often the ones I dash off in a couple of minutes, click Submit, then wonder whether I should have done it.

I got the most comments off a post in which I said I was not going to use ResponseSource, WebPR or any of those services because they took up too much time. I then revisited to say that I was in fact getting much more done, that I was talking to people again and basically having more fun.

Some people went ballistic. People generally do this when they perceive an attack on their ways of working. But I think the whole debate was positive. People need to see other ways of working. Just because we’ve done things one way all our lives doesn’t mean it’s right.

Little fights can erupt and create traffic from time to time. For example I once posted about whether or not it was sexist to refer to people as ‘PR bunnies’. There were some fairly robust comments on that issue. Interestingly the responses were fairly even split on both sides. So an issue thrown into the mix produced an insight that we may not have had if people weren’t able to comment quickly and easily on the blog.

What is your favourite social media site?

I’m not a big fan of any in particular. I just struggle to find the time and I’m a bit technically incompetent. I use Flickr, YouTube and Facebook regularly but the others I usually try and fail to get to grips with. They just add to the volume of information that I have to find more ways of filtering.

Who are your favourite bloggers?

I like Charles Arthur of The Guardian. He does a bit of tech, a bit of journalism, a bit of PR, but he also gives us peeks into his personal life, for example giving updates on his deaf son. Forever Amber is a journalist whom I find very funny, and I like her writing style. Andrew Smith is a PR director working on a ‘secret project’ and won’t tell anyone what it is.

What do you think 2008 holds in store for social media?

I think there will be new channels, so PRs, who already have so many people to communicate with, will have to communicate with even more. Like any business they will naturally choose the perceived cheapest option first, which is emails. So, I guess people at the other end can expect more emails coming through. To get back to the quality vs quantity idea, I would like to see more agencies making creative use of these channels to tell stories.

I anticipate more legal involvement too. I think we’re approaching the point at which it’s not considered acceptable for any old ‘citizen journalist’ to grab images from the web and stick them on their posts, for example. Copyright will become important.

One thing I know will happen in 2008: I will be running a Media Training group called Meet the Media at PRNewswire on Wednesday 13th February! We’ve got some very high profile hacks there including the launch editor of Chat and Take a Break, the health editor at First magazine, former editor of Insurance Times, a couple of Guardian writers and a pretty respected travel and parenting journo. So anyone who fancies meeting them and asking about what we do for a crust is welcome!

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4 thoughts on “The Friendly Chat: Sally Whittle

  1. I like the idea about the “legal involvement.” As the market matures, it has to swith mode from “frontier wildman” to “worthy citizen”.

    It’s like being YouTube, once you’ve been bought by Google, and all the networks’ lawyers begin to circle…

  2. Pingback: Virgin Media is about to activate its social media « Brendan Cooper, your friendly neighbourhood social media strategist

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