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How Big Companies Get Media Coverage :

How Big Companies Get Media Coverage

There aren’t many days when the news is not dominated by massive organizations. When a large corporation opens a new factory, the Red Cross seeks blood, a union strikes or the local government raises taxes, many people are affected and by definition such events are news.

That giant organizations are well covered by the media is hardly surprising. Much of our news concerns events and activities only large enterprises can organize or develop. Stories about a $700-million chemical plant are likely to feature gargantuan corporations rather than minor sub-contractors.

In the competition for media time and attention, large organizations often enjoy continuing media access not because they are big, but because they can be readily covered by the media. And immediate access, in turn, is a fundamental consideration in the process of choosing stories.

Proximity Counts

Suppose a plane crashes in Washington killing 30 people. On the same day, a mine disaster in a remote Montana valley results in an equal number of deaths. Both are terrible tragedies, but you can be certain the plane crash will draw far more attention.

Why? Because the Washington crash offers immediate access. The Nation’s capital is a major media center and so nearby reporters and camera crews can be routed to the crash site in minutes. Film can be developed and edited immediately while reporters on the scene provide live up-dates as new information is received.

As for the mine disaster, it surely deserves coverage, but it takes so long to send cameras and reporters to the scene that the element of immediacy is lost. Even though “long” may be just a few hours in this example, in the competition for media time and space the mine disaster loses. Figure the Montana accident for extensive local coverage, but elsewhere it will rate a short story on day one, a follow-up with photo on day two and possibly a few paragraphs in a national news magazine a week later, perhaps as the lead for a general article on mine safety.

Immediate Access

In less dramatic fashion, large organizations also offer immediate access. They arrange their affairs so that reporters can easily obtain information, interviews, files and photos on short notice. Knowledgeable media contacts employed by major organizations — often former journalists — keep reporters abreast of new developments, respond to media inquiries and suggest story ideas. Some organizations even advertise their availability as sources and list company contacts in media journals.

To see how immediate access works on a practical basis, consider the case of a real estate reporter writing about local housing trends. There are hundreds of area realty companies, and potentially a reporter could look in the phone book, pick names at random and see what different brokers might say. And although such random calls can occur, the reporter also knows three major firms with active media information operations dominate the local market; that major companies maintain extensive sales reports; and, that each has a knowledgeable, quotable spokesman who can discuss current sales trends.

How did the reporter know about the company studies or who to contact? Several reasons stand out.

One presumes large firms in certain fields have specialized information relating to their own activities.

Large firms routinely have information specialists who contact journalists and make sure reporters know what the company is doing. The very effort to reach the media, in and of itself, influences news coverage.

It’s easier and quicker for reporters to call three known sources who understand how to work with the media then to unearth new contacts at random, particularly when deadlines loom. Alternatively, not contacting large firms in a given field could result in a weak or incomplete story.

Beat Journalism

Journalists who regularly cover individual “beats” such as housing, insurance, securities or banking develop sources over time and know who is a good contact and who isn’t. The companies above have probably been sources in the past. Reporters may have heard or seen information elsewhere and are now following up with their own stories.

Although the “immediate” access created by large organizations seems to benefit both reporter and subject, the process contains two sizable flaws.

First, many large organizations have articulate, professional information specialists who constantly update reporters. Indeed, information from such sources is so voluminous that some journalists can probably sit back and cover certain industries just on the basis of the hand-outs they receive.

But continually getting information from a limited number of sources creates a problem: If reporters use too much material from one source — even if that information is the best available — readers, listeners and viewers may wonder where the reportorial effort begins and the company information program ends, or how one can tell the difference between the two.

Second, although “immediate” access is convenient, often helpful and certainly the right approach for firms and organizations, the term “immediate” should not be confused with “complete” or “unbiased” access.

For stories to be accurate, fair and in context, it takes more information — and viewpoints — than a single source can readily provide. Conversely, if immediate access does nothing more than allow large organizations, or anyone, to gain a hearing for their views, that’s a substantial advantage in the battle for media time and attention.

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