Matthew Hiltzik Says Journalists Have Become Their Own ‘Brands’

Trust the individual, not the outlet.

The Hollywood Reporter launched a new feature this week on “The New Gossip Culture,” and it’s a must-read for PR folks with famous (or even not-so-famous) clients.

Following the announcement of a newer, friendlier Gawker, THR attempts to survey the current state of mostly digital publications and their endless search for scoops that get people to click.

One of the more interesting segments is a Q&A with Hiltzik Strategies founder Matthew Hiltzik, who has represented everyone from Alec Baldwin and Glenn Beck to Manti Te’o. Hiltzik was recently named to the board of directors of the New York City Economic Development Corporation and received a mention or two after one of his former employees made headlines for her new role as head of communications for one Donald Trump.

Hiltzik’s main point is that everyone is looking for an angle and one can’t make assumptions based on the outlet for which a give journalist writes:

“People used to say X publication made a mistake. Now it’s more that Y reporter made the mistake on X platform.”

He also argues that the best way to address a negative story is sometimes to just let it be:

“If we’re confident that the story will eventually prove to be false, we might leave it alone because it might not have much impact in the new, fast news cycle.”

In some cases, however (hello, Tinder), one may be better served by addressing the public directly:

“The more well known the person, the easier it is to communicate directly with their audience through social or other media, while someone with a more limited public and online profile faces fewer options.”

Few would argue with Hiltzik’s characterization of certain writers as “cheap shot artists,” but, as Awl founder and Gawker vet Choire Sicha argues in another post, the real culprit behind this trend is advertising and the pressure to win clicks:

“[Digital journalists] fill their servers with hot, angry takedowns, celebrity side-boob shots and whatever other scandalous slop they think will wrestle viewers away from Candy Crush at feeding time.”

In a recent must-read Verge piece profiling The Awl, Choire had another great line on that topic:

“Nobody should ever have to write X posts a day. That’s when you end up writing something you regret. You become someone else’s hot take.”

Many digital journalists, however, don’t have a choice. And some don’t seem to care either way.

Take, for example, the story about Anthony Weiner serving on the advisory board at MWW. When The New York Post broke the story, everyone quickly posted follow-ups clarifying that Weiner would not be advising any clients on crisis comms…only consulting with MWW execs on public policy matters.

Yet the narrative persists, and we get tabloid headlines like this one.

Such is the way, whether we like it or not.

Now for a Friday Flashback, check out Hiltzik talking to our co-founder Joe Ciarollo in 2010 about handling PR for famous people.