As a journalist-turned-PR professional, I am dubious of any technology that claims to formulate the uniquely human decision of what makes a story. When you examine how these AI tools work, they show complete ignorance of how the media operate.
The term ‘media outreach’ is in itself a red flag. This is a woolly PR term that actually doesn’t mean anything to journalists. To anyone in the media, it’s ‘pitching’.
I was bemused to discover one website offering to send out an automated pitch to any journalist who mentions a specific word or phrase in their article. Imagine the spam! This approach looks at topic only and does not take into account the format or ‘treatment’ (as journalists call it) of a story.
For example, a journalist who writes mainstream news stories may never have written a profile piece in their life. A writer who compiles reviews has no need for quotes or case studies. A reporter could mention ‘budget air travel’ in a business news round-up, but that would be incongruous to a pitch inviting them to cover a new holiday destination.
Another service uses AI to assess what topics a journalist may cover next. It apparently does this by analysing a journalist’s likes on social media and what they’ve written before. A similar website boasts that it can generate topic suggestions by looking at a writer’s previous articles and framing their personal interests.
One thing I can attest from 15 years as a journalist across print, broadcast and digital is that journalists don’t just write what they feel like (they wish!). Journalists also pitch stories to their editors and there is a rigorous listing process, with many factors – such as news agenda and overlap of other stories – considered.
One more example of tone-deafness is from a website which happily tells us it examines open-rates data of previous pitches and press releases to work out the best times to send information. But many journalists work shifts, so there is no pattern.
Journalists have always held the power dynamic over PRs. These make it worse. PRs need to show they can apply human, emotional intelligence to their pitches if we’re ever to have a healthy hack-flack relationship.
This leads me to question whether the creators of these technologies have ever worked in the media. They understand the problem, but not the solution. If they had any understanding of the complexity of what constitutes a story for the infinite different types of publications, they wouldn’t attempt to formulate an algorithm.
Helen Croydon is founder and director of Thought Leadership PR