Five Journalists Offer Free ...


Journalists Publications

Public relations is more than news releases and pummeling journalists to write about clients.

The PR profession has been chanting this mantra for years.

It’s finally come true.

The rise of digital communications has given way to a content gold rush. Replacing the picks and shovels, storytelling has moved to a core tool of today’s communications trade.

To accelerate the learning curve, look to journalists who have spent years honing their craft with readers, not heads of marketing, in mind.

Through sheer osmosis you can advance your PR storytelling expertise by reading their stuff. While journalists don’t want to hear it, the difference between what they do and the aspirations of PR has become a fine line.

Here are five journalists who double as gifted storytellers. Not all come from the business world, but their command of language and sequence within a non-fiction frame still has relevance to communicators:

George Anders
Thanks go to Sam Whitmore – if you’re in communications and don’t subscribe to SWMS, put it in the budget for 2014 – for pointing to Anders who largely writes about the tech industry. His style shows how an anecdote can take the reader behind the curtain, like the kickoff to his recent piece on HP’s Meg Whitman:

“To understand Meg Whitman, the former eBay chief executive who now runs Hewlett-Packard, it’s essential to revisit something she did 26 years ago. She had just become a junior partner at Bain Consulting, working for the brilliant but domineering Tom Tierney. One morning Whitman walked into his office, impromptu. The 31-year-old asked her feared boss if he wanted staff feedback about his leadership style; he nodded. With that Whitman grabbed a felt-tip marker and sketched a giant steamroller on a nearby flip board. ‘This is you, Tom,’ she explained. ‘You’re too pushy – you’re not letting us build consensus leadership.’”

Peter Wells
The New York Times
Dining Section:
I love Wednesdays. That’s when The New York Times publishes its dining section, which dishes some of the best storytelling in daily journalism. The best of the best is Peter Wells as symbolized by his shredding of Guy Fieri’s new restaurant:

“Somewhere within the yawning, three-level interior of Guy’s American Kitchen & Bar, is there a long refrigerated tunnel that servers have to pass through to make sure that the French fries, already limp and oil-sogged, are also served cold? Hey, did you try that blue drink, the one that glows like nuclear waste? The watermelon margarita? Any idea why it tastes like some combination of radiator fluid and formaldehyde?”

storytelling in The New York Times  Dining Section

Alexis Madrigal
The Atlantic
Madrigal heads the property’s technology coverage after a successful stint at WIRED. Sure, he can write, but what makes his work stand out is his knack of digging out that fresh angle. As Exhibit A: when P&G sold Pringles, Madrigal wrote the piece, “The Pringle as Technology”:

“Company officials may not be sure, but I’m fairly confident that the company copped the name from noted potato-related device inventor, Mark Pringle of Amsterdam, New York. Pringle co-patented a ‘method and apparatus for processing potatoes’ in 1942 that bears a striking resemblance to later methods of potato chip manufacture. He was, actually, trying to solve the same problem that Pringles later did. Namely, actually frying regular potatoes leads to irregularly-shaped chips of varying crunchiness that don’t last on the shelf for very long.”

Matthew Bishop
The Economist
The publication’s New York bureau chief was brought to my attention by Erica Benton, social media strategist for Trend Micro. Bishop’s gifts lie in his dot-connecting, making sense of complex topics like the labor market (read his opening to a special report on labor back in 2011):

“It is tempting to think of the globalisation of the labour market as a zero-sum game in which Mrs Kamal in Pakistan is benefiting at the direct expense of Ms Vetter in America. But economists point out that such calculations suffer from the “lump of labour fallacy” – the belief that there is only a fixed amount of work to go round. A better explanation, they say, is the theory of comparative advantage, one of the least controversial ideas in economics, which suggests that free markets make the world better off because everyone can concentrate on doing what they are best at.”

Side Note: Did I miss the memo that The Economist no longer treats bylines like a pint of water in the Sahara Desert.

Jeré Longman
The New York Times
Sports Section
What can I say? The New York Times earns two places. Longman has a way with language as reflected in this beautiful paragraph about the beautiful game and Spanish soccer player Andrés Iniesta:

“He is 5 feet 7 inches, humble, pale and balding at 28, but Iniesta’s natural reticence is balanced by a chimney sweep’s comfort in tight spaces. It is evident in his vision and balance and agility, in his movement and Euclidean mastery of the geometric passing that sustains Spain and his league team, Barcelona.”

Obviously, this is hardly a comprehensive list.

I welcome hearing your must-read journalists or even one specific story worthy of reverse-engineering.


  • Sandwichman

    I see Matthew Bishop can’t resist the compulsion to recycle the bogus boilerplate canard of the “lump of labour fallacy.” Bishop plagiarized my research on the origins of the fallacy claim (D. F. Schloss) without including the conclusion of the research that the claim was utterly without merit.

    In response, several years ago, I did an Economist parody by compiling dozens of boilerplate renditions of the phony fallacy claim that had appeared in the magazine over the preceding dozen or so years.

    • hoffman

      Sandwichman,Economics is not my strong suit. I’ll take your word for it.

  • Mightylibrarian

    I like Gene Collier of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Most of his articles are about Pittsburgh sports, but told with a hint of sarcasm and local flavor. His Annual Trite Trophy for cliches is always good.

    • hoffman

      Thanks for the pointer. I will check out Mr. Collier.

      Both of my parents are from Pittsburgh so I grew up following the Steelers and the Pirates (no professional sports at the time in Tucson).


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