The Art of “Newsjacking”: How to Think Like a Journalist

When it comes to pitching news to media outlets, if you’re not first, you’re last. This is particularly true with “newsjacking,” or hijacking a breaking news story with your expertise. It may sound easy, but to do it right, you need to be fast and you need to understand how the news cycle works. Here are a few ways to think like a journalist and maximize your media coverage.

Keep a Pulse on the News

In a newsroom, newspapers are read first thing each morning, Twitter feeds are refreshed constantly and the news is always on television. While it may be difficult for you to commit your day to monitoring the news this extensively, it’s important to keep tabs on major stories relevant to your industry and expertise, so you’re in a better position to quickly offer commentary when news breaks. The key is to stay five steps ahead of news stories whenever possible. For example, if you know that a major court decision is coming down on a certain date and it will likely create media buzz, start prepping early by reading up on the case, identifying potential media targets who have covered that case or similar ones, and getting advance word out to reporters that you are available for comment.

Get in Reporters’ Rolodexes

Every reporter and newsroom has a rolodex, organized by topic and area of expertise. It’s your job to get yourself in it. The best way is by sending an email with your expertise and background to general newsroom newsdesks or specific reporters (email addresses are typically available through a quick Google search). Make sure to note in the first sentence of your email who you are, where you work and what you can talk about. Include your bio, a head shot and any links to video clips that demonstrate how you present yourself on-camera. Use a subject line such as, “For your rolodex: Expert in labor law” to ensure they’ll open (and read) your email. This will help to guarantee that the next time reporters are searching their database for an expert in labor law, your name will come up. Remember that there are hundreds, sometimes thousands of other like-minded experts vying for reporters’ attention, so don’t be discouraged if you’re not contacted right away—the key is to continue to be proactive.

Reach Reporters Fast and First

When a story is breaking and you know you can offer smart commentary, the next step is rapid response pitching. You can assume that when a major story is breaking, an assignment editor, executive producer or news director is calling a newsroom meeting with their reporters to determine their coverage plan. Often, one reporter will be on the “nuts and bolts” of the story, meaning presenting the facts of what happened, one will be on analysis and another will be assigned a “sidebar” story that features real people impacted by the news. With that in mind, figure out where your expertise fits in to the story and then reach out to reporters accordingly. Unless you’re directly involved with the story or case, you’ll likely be able to offer the most value through analysis or a sidebar.

Here are examples of how these pitches work:

  • Analysis: In 2016, Massachusetts passed an equal pay law to prohibit employers from asking about salary histories until they make a job offer that includes compensation. We immediately reached out to our client who specializes in labor and employment law to see if she could provide analysis. After receiving the green light from our client, we pitched all reporters who were covering the story or would likely cover the story based on their beat, securing numerous interviews for our attorney and her firm (our client) in outlets like Huffington Post, Fast Company and Inc.
     
  • Sidebar: On election night 2016, Massachusetts and states across the country legalized marijuana. Understanding that this would be a big story, we offered the same labor and employment attorney for a sidebar piece on the impact of the legalization in the workplace, such as the legalities of marijuana in the workplace and what rights employers and employees have. As a result of quick outreach, we secured commentary in The Wall Street Journal and The Associated Press.

In both examples, hundreds of other attorneys were likely pitched for the same story; however, our attorney got in front of reporters first. For this reason, the art of newsjacking really comes down to timing. Know that when news breaks, one of the first things a reporter will do is look for an expert source. Newsrooms are stretched thin these days and reporters are tight on time, so remember - be fast, be informed and be willing to work within quick deadlines. In other words, be ready to think like a journalist.