Between You and MEdia… with Stephanie Farr

As PR professionals, we all know the importance of building meaningful relationships with members of the media – reporters, producers, assignment editors, etc. But how does that happen, and where do you start? 

In this new section of the PPRA blog, PPRA members will share insight, tips and tricks, and fun facts learned from members of the media through informal interviews. You won’t have to wait for our “Media Mingle” or “Editors Panel” to get your tough questions answered and connect with the media. Our goal with this blog section is to continue engagement with our media counterparts in an informative and fun manner. So, between you and me – enjoy!


With 16 years under her belt as a journalist, a majority of which was spent in Philadelphia, the Inquirer’s Stephanie Farr has a natural sense of what makes a story uniquely Philly. Covering Philly Culture, Stephanie is inspired by the people she writes about and the people who read her work. Journalism was never Stephanie’s first choice in careers, but today, her favorite part of the job is meeting and learning about the incredible people of Philadelphia. Hear more about her process in the edited interview below. Photo courtesy of Stephanie Farr.

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Stephanie Farr

How did you get started as a journalist? I’m probably one of the few journalists left who fell into the career. Quite simply, I needed a job and I could write.

I graduated with a dual degree in creative nonfiction writing and communications from the University of Pittsburgh. I had no idea what the hell to do with my degrees so I began freelancing for my local paper in Williamsport shortly after college. Within a month or two, I was hired for a full-time position – first as an obituary writer, then as a news reporter.

 

I never worked for my high school or college paper and I was never interested in doing so. I was required to take one journalism class in college as part of my writing degree and I absolutely hated it. The professor, a miserable copy editor with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, only reinforced my belief that journalism was dry, boring, and devoid of creativity.

It was only after joining the staff of the Williamsport Sun-Gazette and learning the kind of freedom I could have as a reporter that I fell in love with journalism.

Between you and me, what advice would you give PR professionals looking to pitch you?  For the love of all that is sweet and holy, please learn what reporter is the best one for your pitch. All of our beats – with descriptions – are listed clearly on our website.

One of my biggest questions when people pitch me a story is “What would get you to read this story if you didn’t care about the subject?” – and be honest with yourself. I know you’re beholden to clients, but I’m beholden to our readers – and I don’t want to bore them. The more unusual aspects or facts of a story you can provide, the more likely it is that I might be interested.

Also, if you believe you have a story that’s a perfect fit for me, pick up the phone and call me. I had this happen the other week and it was so refreshing I thanked the PR pro for doing it. I also worked harder to pursue the story than I otherwise might have done.

I get so many emails that even those pitches I may be interested can get pushed down in my inbox and quickly forgotten about. Phone is still the primary method of communication for me.

To get your email pitch to stand out, make sure it’s personalized to the reporter. And yes, we can tell when you’re just cutting and pasting different reporters’ names into the same email. That’s almost always an automatic delete for me.

How many pitches do you get a day from PR folks? So, so many. I’d guess anywhere from 50 to 100, and most of them are about things I would never cover.

How much follow up is too much on a pitch—with someone you don’t have a relationship with, and someone you do? This a major pet peeve for me and many other journalists right now. The “follow-up” and “just circling back around” emails – especially from PR pros I don’t know – are killing me and overloading my inbox.

If your first email pitch was not personalized to me (i.e., it appears to be a blanket pitch you’ve made to many reporters) and I am not interested in the subject, sending me a “follow-up” email will only enrage me. Sometimes, I’ve received as many as five “follow-up” emails from the same PR pro.

Now, if we know each other and/or I’ve expressed interest in your initial pitch, it’s OK to remind me of the story idea. Like I said, the amount of emails we receive on any given day is overwhelming and even the good ones can be forgotten.

Can you share a fun and interesting fact about yourself? I circumnavigated the world aboard a ship during my study abroad program, Semester at Sea. Our ports of call were Cuba, Brazil, South Africa, Tanzania, India, Vietnam, South Korea, China and Japan. I caught a serious case of wanderlust during the voyage and I’ve been traveling ever since.

Favorite spot to think through a story? This is so boring, but it’s usually just at my desk. I once interviewed Salman Rushdie and asked his advice for aspiring writers. He said something like “Butt in chair.” He said the hardest part of writing for most people is forcing yourself to sit down, to put your butt in the chair, and begin. I’ve found that to be very true.

A memorable story that you’ve worked on: Most recently what made me glow was to see an artist with autism I profiled for my “We the People” series go from being relatively unknown when I first interviewed him to having his works sell for $25,000 by the end of last year. Kambel, his dad, and his brother expanded my idea of what I thought was humanly possible, and that is a great gift. When I walked into the gallery show opening in November and saw that the people of Philly had shown up for Kambel’s show – some because they’d read my articles on him –  I was moved to tears.

How to pitch Stephanie: sfarr@inquirer.com and 215.854.4225

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