For the third episode of the WitzEnd podcast, we’re taking things in a new direction. We’re moving past just tech to speak with Jon Swartz, USA Today San Francisco Bureau Chief. Swartz is a career newsman that has covered the Silicon Valley business beat since the late 80s. In our far reaching conversation, we discussed everything from the changing media landscape to Steve Jobs’ effect on young CEOs.
Here are the five biggest takeaways from our conversation. As always, be sure to listen to the full interview by checking out our podcast on iTunes, Google Play or SoundCloud.
Career Changers: Journalists Turning PR Pros
Interesting tidbit about myself: I was a freelance technology reporter before trying my hand at PR. While I’m not quite sure where my career will take me, Swartz’s interview at least taught me that I’m not the only one. The USA Today reporter says that ex-journos are jumping into PR at a much high rate than PR folks are turning to the media.
“A lot of people in journalism are going into PR. We’re losing them and you’re gaining them,” said Swartz during our wide-ranging interview.
Swartz told us that former reporters are finding themselves at PR firms, Fortune 500 companies and any other place that needs content in the age of the internet (so, everyone). His words make sense for an industry that is struggling to find a place in the internet age. As newsrooms shrink, it’s nice to know that journalism skills can still go to good use in the PR industry.
What Happened to the Newspaper?: Online First, Print Second
Speaking of changing times, Swartz tells us that USA Today is taking the transition to digital better than others. He reported to us that the use of digital media has offered the publication the chance to develop longer and more in-depth stories for their website. No ink, no margins, no problem!
“If you want the definitive story from USA Today, you should go to the website. There’s significantly longer and deeper stories online than what’s whittled down for print,” reported Swartz.
Client Work: A Study in Expectations
When is the last time you bought a real-life newspaper? Do you remember? In spite of the fact that I’m not even sure where to buy a newspaper, many PR clients are dying to get on the front page. Swartz finds that many of the CEOs he interviews would still rather be placed above the fold instead of the homepage.
“The irony is that any company we deal with wants to find themselves in the newspaper. No matter how large or how small they are,” added Swartz.
Swartz’s words are a good reminder that PR can sometimes be an exercise in managing expectations. While the rush of being in the paper can be invigorating, it doesn’t mean that it is the right goal for every company. Sometimes a more in-depth interview online might be worth the trouble. It might even lead to more people reading it.
Steve Jobs: The Idol of Silicon Valley
Steve Jobs transcended technology to become a figure known by nearly everyone. The man behind the iPhone is considered one of the greatest business minds ever. To his great fortune, Swartz was able to talk with the brilliant man behind Apple on a variety of occasions. During our conversation, Swartz said Jobs was a lot of things from genius, to egotistical, to cold, yet he also had a magnetism not often seen in CEOs.
“He was almost a messianic figure. I know that can sound weird. He wasn’t a cult figure, but he had that sort of effect on people,” Swartz said.
The News Cycle: Times They Are a Changin’
While Swartz finds that it’s unfair to tell a PR person how to do his or her job, he did say he wished he’d stop getting pitches for yesterday’s news. He told us that too often he’ll get pitches that try to piggyback off of a story that already lost its shine. It might seem clever to pitch a spokesperson for another story on a trending topic, but if you can’t do it fast enough it might lose its newsworthiness.
“I wish you sent me something when it was happening, not the next day,” Swartz added.
Listen to the Full Episode
That’s just a taste of our interview with Swartz. Hear our full interview below.