Being A Journalist On The Internet

By | March 25, 2004

(an update on this episode: the bank in question has now compounded its faux pas by sending me press releases I didn’t sign up for. After the first one I sent a polite request for them to stop, but another one arrived half an hour later. My second request was slightly less polite. More on this as it happens. Plus, I’m thinking of naming the bank in question. JW)

Sometimes the Internet doesn’t make journalism any easier.

I’ve been calling around Australian banks for a story, and most have relatively accessible media contact details. Not great, but I can understand you don’t want to place these kind of details right on the front page, or else you’ll be fielding calls from non-journalist customers complaining their PIN number fell down a drain and the cat ate their bank book.

But most while banks in the end will reveal a phone number, a name and/or an email address if you drill down far enough, others are not sympathetic to the deadline-crazed hack. One, which will remain nameless for now, forces a journalist to register before even getting a phone number to call.

It’s not the details they require — although these are more intrusive than they need be — so much as the fact that the form is so unforgiving. Put a dash or a comma in the publications field and an error message will pop up when you try to submit the form; make sure your password is six letters/digits exactly, add a district code even if you don’t live in Australia, and for heaven’s sake make sure you don’t prefix your phone number with a helpful + to denote you’re calling from overseas. Forms written by clods.

Then, the final insult: Once your form is submitted, you’ll get a congratulatory message.  “Thank you for registering with the Media Centre. A [deleted] representative will contact you within 1 business day.” Er. How, exactly, will they contact us? And does that mean today? Or tomorrow? What about my deadline?

I’m going to start drafting some guidelines for web designers and media departments. My first request: fast access to the press page on a website by dedicated URLs that allow us to type and go straight to where we need to go. And while I think of it, NEVER issue a press release without detailed contacts at the bottom. How are we supposed to confirm the dang thing isn’t fake? Even better, standardise the order and layout of your contact details so we can move them into Outlook without lots of rearranging.

OK, that’s my rant for the day. That felt good. I haven’t done one for a while.

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