Welcome to our "SPOTLIGHT" feature where we highlight a ProfNet Connect user and share their personal story and insight with you. This SPOTLIGHT belongs to journalist Rafael Olmeda, an Education Reporter for The South Florida Sun-Sentinel. We hope you find SPOTLIGHT both enjoyable and informative. Please feel free to leave a comment after the blog entry.
Please note: The comments/responses made here are Rafael Olmeda's and are not intended to present company policy.
Please tell us about yourself and what you do at the Sun-Sentinel.
I’m an education reporter, covering K-12 news and features. We’re looking at the best and, sometimes, the worst of the school system, monitoring the spending of tax dollars and letting people know about what’s going on in local education. Broward County has the sixth largest school district in the country. I also write about parenting issues for our Moms & Dads blog.
Did you always want to be a journalist?
I became interested in journalism as a child watching “Happy Days.” It was Richie Cunningham’s dream job. I dabbled with it in high school but didn’t get serious until college.
How do you get most of your story ideas?
There’s no single way to get an idea. I’d say nine out of 10 ideas spring from a previous story, an unanswered or unexplored question in an article about a simple assault can sprout forth articles about bullying, cyberbullying, post-traumatic stress, education in jail, school safety procedures and cell phone policies.
Then, of course, there’s regular news of the day. The school district here does a decent job of alerting us to the stories they want to promote, and many are fair and worthy of coverage. Also, the school board makes dozens of decisions every month, some of which are bound to be either controversial or of general interest to the public. People want to know where and how public money is spent. Tracking that is part of my job.
What advice do you have for someone pitching you a story idea, in regards to content and how to pitch?
Get to the point quickly. Odds are, I’m working on something else when you call me. I don’t mean to be rude, but there’s a good chance my mind is elsewhere.
And do follow through. Call me every couple of days to bring your story back to the forefront of my memory. Finally, give me plenty of warning. Don’t invite me to a ribbon cutting in one hour. But not in one month, either. Be reasonable about how much advance notice I need.
What's something someone pitching you should never do?
Please, don’t send me stuff. I can’t use it. I won’t review it. It will be donated to charity and you’ll get no return on the investment.
Another big turnoff is someone who clearly doesn’t have the slightest idea what I cover. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it’s hilarious. If you need help finding the perfect reporter for your pitch, just ask. Don’t assume it’s me and go into your pitch because then I have to stop you, send you to the right reporter, and try to find out how to get back the minute or two you took up for no reason.
Relationships are key in this industry. What's the best way to get to know you and develop a professional relationship?
Comment on my blog, follow me on Twitter (@rolmeda), send a friend request on Facebook.
PR pros often mention the lack of response from journalists when something is pitched, and many believe they should get a response with each pitch.
What's your take on this?
I can’t respond to every e-mail pitch. Too many. Sorry.
How do you use social media in your work and how does it benefit you?
Facebook and Twitter are usually on. They help take the pulse of the online community about various issues. You can get a good sense of whether there’s interest in the subject matter you’re researching or what you’ve just written.
Do you belong to any professional media associations? How have they helped you?
I am a lifetime member and former president of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. The association helps keep me connected with my peers across the country, helps me track important issues beyond my immediate circle of interest, and reminds me of an important aspect of who I am. It's also terrific for networking.
From a journalist's perspective, what tips would you provide to someone just starting out as a PR professional trying to develop skills to deal with the media?
Stay positive and stay in touch. Now and then, just for kicks, call a reporter and just chat as a get-to-know-you tactic. “I have nothing to pitch right now, but I wanted to get a sense of what you cover so that I can shoot things your way in the future.” That would go far with me.
What are some of your biggest challenges as a journalist in this era of cutbacks and turmoil across the country's newsrooms?
The “jack-of-all-trades” aspect of the job has become second nature. We write, we blog, we take pictures, we shoot video, we post to the Web, we read comments, we reply to comments … all while planning and reporting the next story.