Ask a Reporter: Ben Fischer, Staff Writer, Sports Business Journal

Recently, our team at PRNEWS decided to revive a series for our readers: "Ask a Reporter." With logistical changes in the workforce, as well as a news cycle that just won't quit, PR and media need to work more harmoniously than ever to get the public the information it needs. During Ask a Reporter we will interview a fellow journalist, finding out what works best for him or her when it comes to media relations.

For this edition, we caught up with Ben Fischer, staff writer at Sports Business Journal. Fischer's main beats for the Journal include the NFL and Olympics, which have been keeping him uniquely busy this year, but according to his profile, he's been known to write about action sports like the X Games and mud runs as well.

Ask a Reporter Ben Fischer headshot
Ask a Reporter: Ben Fischer, Sports Business Journal

PRNEWS: How has COVID affected your job? How has it affected your work with PR professionals?

Ben Fischer: There’s much less proactive pitching going on because there are fewer deals (and other obviously “positive” stories.) My relationships with people in PR who I knew already are stronger and deeper, but it’s harder to make progress with new relationships.

PRNEWS: What is the one thing PR pros need to understand about journalists?

Fischer: We are expected to spend most of our time on original coverage. If an article has appeared elsewhere or you’re shopping the same story to others at the same time, we’re almost certainly not interested. At the very least, it becomes far less of a priority.

Also: We’re looking for a relationship with the decision-makers, not a PR firm. The more distance you put between the actual executives/strategists and the reporter, the less value we get. My best, most productive relationships with a company develop when I have a direct connection with an in-house communications executive who understands how decisions are made and why—the worst are when I get prepared statements through a middle-person who is not authorized to do anything else.

PRNEWS: So what is the best way for PR practitioners to approach you?

Fischer: Email.

PRNEWS: What is the most annoying thing a PR person can do?

Fischer: Pitch me without a clear understanding of the SBJ’s audience and my coverage priorities, or pitch me something others have already written.

PRNEWS: What is the best?

Fischer: Introduce me to a helpful, real source who’s interested in a relationship, not a headline.

PRNEWS: How could PR pros improve on their pitches/media relations?

Fischer: Research. Every day I get pitches from people who think I cover a beat I haven’t covered in a year or people who have no idea what the SBJ does and who reads it.

PRNEWS: What is the best example of an interaction you have had with a PR practitioner?

Fischer: A few weeks ago, I needed some non-obvious names to comment on a sensitive story about politics and athlete protests. I called an independent PR practitioner for ideas. Three of the four people I quoted in that story came from him, and it all happened in the course of a single day. Very efficient connecting of people with no expectations, just putting people together.

PRNEWS: What is the worst?

Fischer: First place tie: Every email from an agency that is clearly sent to dozens of other reporters.

PRNEWS: If the tables were turned, how would you approach journalists?

Fischer: I’d reach out to reporters outside of the context of a given story, or have a call about how we might benefit each other generally before I propose a specific article. I’d be willing to speak on background as much as possible, even if I’m not permitted to speak freely on behalf of my client.

Nicole Schuman is a reporter for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal