5 Questions with Jeff Roberts, law & policy reporter at Fortune
by Pearl Tam, @pearl_tam
Eastwick hosts a monthly “Media Meet & Greet” session with top journalists in the tech media scene. This month we continue our “5 Questions with…” media series with Jeff John Roberts, law & policy reporter at Fortune.
Jeff is both a lawyer and a journalist for Fortune, where he specializes in copyright and digital media issues and analyzes legal trends that affect the tech sector. Most recently, Jeff served as a senior reporter at Gigaom and before that as a legal and media reporter for paidContent.org.
We invited Jeff to stop by our New York office recently so we could hear more about best PR practices, how he views PR and impactful tech giants.
Interested in joining our next Media Meet & Greet (in San Francisco or New York), or is there someone you’d like to see profiled? Email firstname.lastname@example.org
1. How do you view PR and what should we be thinking about?
I’ve gained a greater appreciation for PR people through the years I’ve been in journalism. People are often unduly critical of them (though not always), and for professional reasons they are not allowed to respond. There are just as many stupid journalists as there are stupid PR people.
2. How can we best work with you? How have PR people worked to build personal relationships with you (what worked and what didn’t)?
The best PR people know what I write about and pitch me accordingly. If I don’t reply right away, it’s okay to follow-up multiple times. I try to respond with a “no” when I can, but if you’ve pitched three times and I haven’t responded, it means I’m not interested.
It’s best to get right to the chase and put the relevant stuff in the subject line and in the first paragraph or bullet points up top. Also, be honest with yourself. Most of the stuff you are sending out isn’t really a story, but you’re selling it as such because your client thinks it’s more interesting than it is. As I said, you guys have a hard job in a lot of respects.
3. What are your deadlines like, and is there a certain time of day you like to be pitched? Do you prefer phone or email?
I find that the east coast time zone is the toughest as a writer since you need to get on board early, and the day goes long because of the west coast tech companies. This means there are few “good” times to be pitched. Mornings between 8:30 and 10:30 AM ET are probably best since that is when I’m often looking around for story ideas. Earlier in the week is better, since Mondays are often slow. Late in the week I’m typically trying to clear the decks of existing work — not take on more.
Phone? Are you joking? Don’t even think of phoning me. And the lowest circle of PR people hell is reserved for those who cold call a reporter’s cell phone. Pay no attention to the older PR manager who says, “give them a follow-up call.” They learned that trick before email was invented.
Email is the way to go. It’s far less intrusive. The only exception to the phone rule is if I’ve worked with you in the past, and you have a truly important story. In which case, you can text, but only for an urgent, time-sensitive really important matter.
4. Do you find social media useful in connecting with PR people or sources?
Not really. I use Twitter mostly as a work tool and I typically follow people who might be sharing news. No offense to PR people, but they are typically tweeting because they are fulfilling marketing obligations — they rarely tweet anything new or controversial (it’s not their job!).
And as for Facebook, I try to keep it to friends, family and so on. There are few PR people I know well enough to consider Facebook friends.
And I hate LinkedIn, so I rarely use it.
5. What are some stories you are working on now?
I like to write about companies that are really changing how we live and interact with each other, and how governments and regulators are responding to them.
I think what Netflix is doing for TV is fascinating. Both Google and Facebook will have an enormous impact on the future of privacy and our relationships with each other. I think these giants are the most important companies in tech right now, and will be for some time.