Educating Reporters on Complex or Uncommon Topics

educating reporters on complex topics is important for communicators

Several weeks ago, after including the PGA Tour and LIV Golf merger in our weekly PR Roundup, PRNEWS received a note from PGA of America. That note inspired us to write this very piece on how to educate reporters on topics, terms and items they may not be as knowledgeable in. 

Michael Abramowitz, Public Relations Director, Membership & Inclusion, PGA of America, sent us a simple, kind note instructing us to change the term PGA to PGA Tour. Little did we know PGA can refer to PGA of America, and these groups are not one in the same. 

Abramowitz politely asked for a change, explaining how and why and gave us some background information on the differences between the two groups—which split back in 1968.  

“We do see these things happen but it was especially heightened after the [merger] announcement,” Abramowitz says. “The journalists want to get it right and are typically open to making a correction.” 

Less Journalists and More to Cover

While we are experts in reporting on communications, we do lack extensive knowledge of the golf world and appreciated the lesson from PGA of America. However, it’s not just something like golf that can trip reporters up. Journalists cover complicated issues like healthcare and sciences, tech product launches and finance every day.

And with media companies shedding jobs and resources, those reporters left are required to do more than cover a single beat at their respective locations. Melissa Zuckerman, SVP, JPA Health, takes an empathetic approach when working with reporters. 

“Most health beats have dried up and reporters are less health specialists and more generalists, with less time to do their homework, research and write stories,” Zuckerman says. 

She tries to get to know them, and does her best to put herself in their shoes to understand their needs and pressures. 

One way she guides reporters is to feed them “packages.”

“It’s not just about getting the pitch in front of them to get an interview anymore,” she says. “Look to give them whatever content that will help them write and build the story—deep background discussions and materials as well as any written, video and audio content that they can use.”

Assess—Never Assume. 

Zuckerman also believes one of the most important things to do is always assess a reporter’s level of knowledge about a topic, so you can tailor how you’re providing the information. Ask questions such as is it brand new to them? Is it something they’ve been covering for six months or five years? 

“Each reporter requires a different level of education, and we don’t ever want to assume someone’s knowledge about a subject,” she says. 

And if you aren’t certain? Zuckerman says it is best practice to directly ask a reporter what they know already.

“This helps [us] to understand if there are any previous misconceptions or misinformation to address in the conversation,” she says. 

Her agency found this to be extremely helpful at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic to educate about how a vaccine is developed, and what a vaccine does in the body. 

Zuckerman says this question also guides a communicator on how much background a conversation should provide before diving into an interview. 

“We recently spoke with a freelance reporter about our new AI-insights engine, GRETEL Trails, who was very candid that AI was out of their comfort zone,” she says. “Given this, we spent the first 15 minutes [of the meeting] explaining how AI technology works in general and then giving them a live demo to see how the technology works specifically in our new marketing tool.” 

Offering a Direct Connection

Live demos also provide technology reporters with experience and insight. Therese Van Ryne, Senior Director, global external communications, Zebra Technologies, knows that technology can be a tricky topic for journalists to write about, especially if they are new to covering the space. Van Ryne offers several engaging tactics to help educate these reporters on complex products and innovations. 

“We often invite reporters to use our technology themselves at one of our experience centers so they can touch and feel it to truly appreciate the innovation behind it,” Van Ryne says. 

And in addition to selecting the right spokespeople to explain the technology, its benefits and use cases, Zebra also looks at its industry from an outsider's perspective when it comes to education. 

“We try to avoid acronyms or at least describe what they are, and we allow enough time during the interview for the reporters to ask questions to build their understanding.”

Remember, the more availability PR pros have for the reporter, the easier the job for everyone. 

Nicole Schuman is senior editor for PRNEWS. Follow her @buffalogal