We wanted to see what advice PIOs could take from a seasoned broadcast journalist to understand the challenges that journalists face. Bari Soash, News Director at WTOC-TV, Savannah, GA gave some great insight and tips as well as some excellent advice on what PIOs can do to land that all-important pitch.
Your whole career has been in broadcast news. What was it that made you want to pursue this line of work?
I have always been a creative individual and curious about the world around me. I grew up writing everything that I could from poems, to music, to short stories. When 9-11 happened, I came home from school and put a tape into my VHS and recorded the news for the next 48 hours. I also recorded my entire senior year on a camcorder. So, I guess you could say I was big on documenting my life! I went to college thinking I would pursue tv news reporting but ended up falling in love with everything behind the scenes. My professors always needed someone to be a director, someone to be a producer, and they would often call on me. When our TV news anchor auditions came around, I was going to sign up and then my professor asked me to become the station's news director. The next thing I knew, I was the one selecting talent and the rest is history!
What is important to you about working local news?
We have such an important job as journalists to inform our community as to what is happening. It's really a huge responsibility to know what's going on, seek the truth, hold others accountable, and be there for our communities in times of need. When there's something big, people turn to us and expect us to know what's happening and that is what keeps me motivated.
You use videos of yourself to promote jobs at your station and it seems like you’re a natural. How do you develop those skills when it comes to being on film?
Well, thank you so much for the kind words! I just did this on a whim about a month ago when I was having trouble getting new applicants to apply to my openings. Like everyone else right now, we are struggling to find qualified people to fill our openings and I wanted to do something different and talk to people directly.
As for how to develop those skills? I think you just need to be yourself. In my videos, that's how I am in real life too. I have coached countless Reporters and Multi-Media journalists over the years, and I guess one could say I have picked up on some of those skills myself! Just talk to others like you would be talking
We have such an important job as journalists to inform our community as to what is happening.
What’s more likely to get you interested in a pitch from a PIO?
I think the pitch has to be authentic. PIOs really need to think about how regular folks would respond to something that they are doing and think about how to pitch that to the journalists that they work with. We get countless emails, phone calls, and social media messages a day pitching stories. If you find the important nugget and lead with that, you'll likely to get noticed faster.
What type of stories really get you fired up?
Fired up in a good way or a bad way? If you're talking about fired up in a good way, then that's easy. Great people, with amazing stories to tell. Folks that have done something great for someone else, or who have dedicated their life to a craft, hobby or job. If you mean fired up in a bad way, then as a journalist that's tough. We try not to have an opinion on things, but we never like seeing injustice, or hearing about a tragic incident. Those things take a toll.
As news director you have more of a steer on the strategy of the station. How do you balance all of the community needs from such a diverse audience when it comes to the narrative arc of your station?
I think you have to be in tune with what your community is looking for, what they want, and what they need to know. I think you can't have a separate strategy that doesn't involve all of those things. At my current station, our brand is trust. And that's a big one but also an essential one as a journalists. Our community trusts us and we work hard to keep that trust by being truthful in our reporting and keeping integrity and honesty at the forefront of what we do.
PIOs really need to think about how regular folks would respond to something that they are doing.
What would you say to PIOs who are concerned about the challenging aspects of working with broadcast media?
I think you first have to say we aren't challenging to work with! 😉 We actually are quite simple. Our deadlines are just on different timelines compared to many other people. Most days, we don't know what stories we are covering until that day, so when we reach out and need an interview, we need one that day. This is where PIOs often differ and want to meet days later. But in a few days, it won't be a story anymore.
The key is realizing that most journalists are efficient and timely and will come in and do an interview in a timely manner. The other item that may be considered difficult is when PIOs don't want to talk when there's a "bad thing" happening. But in all reality, it often looks worse if they don't talk. I would say work to establish a good working relationship when you don't have anything going on. That way you can get to know how they work and what works best for them. At the end of the day, we are just regular folks too! Work to establish a good working relationship [with journalists] when you don't have anything going on.
If you could report or produce for any station in any part of the world, where would it be and why?
Wow, that's a tough one. I don't think anyone has ever asked me that! Honestly, I don't know. This business has taken me to cities and stations I never thought I would work at until I did, so you just really never know. For me though, it's always about the opportunity, but not just for myself, for my family too.
If you could ask any favor of PIOs what would it be?
I think to always be responsive. Even if it's an answer a journalist doesn't want to hear. It's so much better than ignoring our requests, or pushing us to the back burner.
Misinformation is a real challenge for everyone. What do you do to counteract this and are there any tips you have for source checking for PIOs?
It is such a challenge. Everyone has access to a platform these days where they can put out information. It's always so important to go directly to the source if you can and work to confirm the information you have from trusted people. Journalists have high standards of what we go through to get information and publish information, yet so many around us publish and say whatever they want. The key is to try and report the facts, without bias. However, you have to do it in a way without repeating the misinformation, because people will then just remember the misinformation, and may not remember if it is true or not.
What would you suggest as the best things to put in your ideal news package if a PIO wants to put something together for you?
We honestly don't like to run packages from PIOs because it will always come with a bias towards the event, person, place, etc. (Which is should since you are representing the organization you are contacting us about.) However, if they want to provide interviews or generic roll or pictures of an event that we weren't able to attend, we would be fine with that so we can pick and choose what we want to run, if any of it.
There is usually a clear difference between someone who is great to interview and someone who isn’t too prepared. What are the skills that you value in an interviewee?
We always want them to be themselves. They are in the position they are for a reason, so they just need to relax and talk about what they know! I would say also to not ask for specific questions before an interview. Journalists don't like doing this, because it takes away the authenticity of the responses and also, we often don't know every question we are going to ask because we try to be active listeners and the questions could change based on what the interviewee has to say. So, we just like to keep it to the generic topics we want to discuss.
What you do to look after your own wellbeing when reporting on tough situations?
I find my peaceful place with my family. I'm blessed to have a wonderful husband and two young daughters that keep me fully occupied when I have some free time. And I have a few News Director friends that I use to talk things out with. That helps to speak with someone who understands the job completely. I also run a lot and it can be very therapeutic. I would also always recommend that if people are having a tough time, they consider seeking out a professional who can help them.
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