Understanding 5 Types of Reporters (and How to Work with Them)


This edition of ‘5 Things,’ like many others, was inspired by a lunch we had recently with a few PR colleagues. It all started with a simple question and some half-assed Caesar salad concoction.

What is the difference between a journalist and a reporter? 

Much like a cop and a detective, a football player and linebacker, or even a career PR agency rat and an alcoholic, one is simply a more detailed iteration of the other.

The journalism category includes many jobs, and a reporter is someone who writes stories for a living but doesn’t necessarily how to master the other needs of the news industry (e.g., editing, production, publishing, anchoring). Now that we see the difference, here are 5 types of reporters and how to work with them.

sleuth1. The Sleuth. Although visions of in-depth investigative reporting may come to mind, other beat or general assignment reporters take on this persona as well. Everything is about the conquest — just the facts, ma’am. This person is not your friend, and you damn sure won’t be sharing direct messages on Twitter.

  • Pitches: Trend pieces or stories to answer a question for society. 
  • Turn-ons: Quizzical, brief pitches that provide a keystone answer for a larger story…that doesn’t involve you. 
  • Turn-offs: “Hope you are well.” This reporter gives two craps about fluffy relationships with PR folks. 
  • Understanding: You are a source and nothing more.
  • Misunderstanding: Your client will become the focus of the somehow flattering sleuth article. No. Way. 

MTV TRL With Will Ferrell2. The Headliner. Whether it’s because of the Midas touch or the brown nose, every news outlet employs at least one of these. If it’s breaking, this one is there. If there is a police chase, this one calls in. If there is a weather scare, this one is standing in hail, fire, and rabid dogs. Why? Spotlight.

  • Pitches: Direct response, enticing details.
  • Turn-ons: Exclusives. Those, and screaming one’s own name during sex. 
  • Turn-offs: BCC emails, lackluster of details, or anything that says the wrong name. 
  • Understanding: If you have a local story that could get national pick-up, you will make a friend for life.
  • Misunderstanding: Your small business client will offer something newsworthy for this person. Comical. 

douche reporter3. The Douche. A giant bottle of Massengill at any outlet can be detected by any PR person worth his/her salt, because this is the reporter that is too high-minded to return your calls or respond to your emails. Ever. He or she may also spend a bit too much time in the TV truck primping for the camera rather than editing for the news.

  • Pitches: Scoops. Whatever it takes for him or her to brag, “Yah. I got that first.” 
  • Turn-ons: Mentions of previous stories’ details to prove you know who he or she is. That, and anything involving mirrors. 
  • Turn-offs: Making a pitch too casual. This isn’t about you — at all. 
  • Understanding: If it is a scoop, stick to your word. This thing is uttered publicly before your contact covers it, you’re dead to this person. 
  • Misunderstanding: The fact that you got a reply doesn’t guarantee coverage. There’s still the ‘WIIFM’ factor. 

network4. The Hard Nut to Crack. Many times, this reporter is mislabeled as a jerk. Unfortunately, this reporter shares great stories and has therefore inadvertently positioned him/herself as the mother lode for us. Because of this person’s gold standard position in the newsroom, he or she has been burned to a crisp by bad publicists, flacks and spin doctors. Basically, everyone pitches them to a pulp. And that’s why they rarely follow up.

  • Pitches: Good ones — succinct, 5 Ws, newsworthy, a great angle. All wrapped up with a nice bow. 
  • Turn-ons: Any PR pros that can prove we aren’t all “like that.” 
  • Turn-offs: Proving that we are all “like that.”
  • Understanding: This reporter has many more important things to do than to respond to your pitch within 24 hours. Be patient. 
  • Misunderstanding: You have something or someone this reporter has never experienced. It’s news, not rocket science. 

clark-kent-reporter5. The One Who Gets It. Handle this reporter with care and you might just make a friend for the rest of your professional life. Don’t and you’ll get blacklisted by his/her entire outlet because people trust what this one says (or doesn’t say). In short, this reporter doesn’t appreciate junk. If you have news, this one will enjoy it. If you are shilling for a product, this one will not enjoy you.

  • Pitches: Stories with real appeal or even a different angle than the one shared by others (AKA competitors) 
  • Turn-ons: Honesty. If you have to pitch but aren’t too confident, say so. You never know, and transparency is a good thing. 
  • Turn-offs: Cloaking your crap pitch in jargon and seasoning it with lines like “I know you will love this.” 
  • Understanding: Be timely and respectful of deadlines — not just yours but theirs. 
  • Misunderstanding: Your newfound friendship isn’t as strong as you think it is. In other words, you aren’t the only show in town.