PRNewser Interview: Jon Friedman, Marketwatch.com
December 5, 2007
Continuing in our weekly series interviewing the movers and shakers in PR and media, PRNewser this week spoke with Marketwatch.com senior media columnist Jon Friedman. In his most recent column, “R.I.P., the American magazine, 1923-20__” Jon wrote, “this industry seems intent on choking itself to death.” We talk to him a bit more about that, working with “flacks” and his local sports affiliations.
What time did you wake up this morning?
5:45 a.m. (to get ready to go to a 6:30 a.m. spinning class at a nearby New York Sports Club).
Best part about covering the media beat?
Chiding and needling pompous people.
Worst part about covering the media beat?
Seeing how incredibly thin-skinned and image-conscious media people at all levels can be – they are much worse about protecting their reps than CEOs.
Giants or Jets?
Jints (with apologies to Brian Lewis and Peter Costiglio).
Yankees or Mets?
In Jeter I trust.
What blogs do you read?
Romenesko, Media Bistro, HuffPo, I Want Media, Jeff Jarvis, Gawker, The Borowitz Report, PaidContent and a few others.
Google is: NOT a media company (yet).
What led you to become a journalist?
Oh, the usual reasons, I suppose – the promise of obtaining the big bucks and the kind of status in society that would make beautiful women fall in love with me, ha ha – BUT SERIOUSLY, a) I simply always loved to write and b) I always wanted to know everything about a subject before anyone else did. That pretty much sums up what a journalist is all about.
What single person played the biggest role / had the biggest influence on your career?
Many people you’ve never heard of acted as mentors to me – and still do; David Halberstam, for setting a profound example of how to produce great journalism, and Dave Callaway, my editor in chief at MarketWatch, for showing so much confidence in me as a columnist.
What media websites are doing well with interactive?
Msnbc.com was one of the very first news websites that truly understood the importance of visuals and graphics, at one point they had almost as many graphics people as writers. In my opinion it was probably the best news site for a time. They had a real vision for attacking the web news business. I think people have kind of caught up to them, but they were among the very first. Of course, the NY Times is good, the WSJ is good, and the Washington Post is good. It’s not a coincidence that the three best papers have the three best websites as well.
What about magazine sites?
Newsweek tries to do things right. Time is moving more towards that. But I wouldn’t put any magazine website in the category of “great.” They all started too late and unenthusiastically. They are making strides, however.
Are the magazines killing their product by going to far in either direction (print vs. online)?
No, because the idea is people consume both. But, the people at the top are not truly behind websites. It’s strictly a matter of finance. If they felt they were making BIG money online, they would be investing more there. It they found the holy grail online they would find put more money there.
From a PR perspective, are you getting more pitches this year than last?
More pitches this year.
What do good PR people do?
PR people solve problems. They do things like get you bios quickly, and don’t try and influence my point of view. They are well organized. The best PR people think like journalists. They think in terms of story idea, writing style. That is the difference between a “flack” and PR person. I have a lot of respect for PR people, but not flacks. The best PR people think about the story ideas like I do. Most people think short term about getting story in my column and that is a mistake. I would rather have an association with someone over time.
But sometimes PR people are worried about going too far with proposing a story idea. What do you think about that?
They can’t go far enough.
How many pitches do you get per day?
I read about 10.
Do you have any examples of a PR person that emailed you and that sparked a story idea or they got into a story?
I won’t name the person, but the head of PR from major news magazine recently helped me by getting in touch with the EIC of a major news magazine very quickly. The person called back from a car on the way to airport. It showed extra attention, which I appreciated. In general, having a column gives me more independence because I can write what I want. So, I have a different need than other journalists who need PR help all the time. But in this case, this person gave me access to person making news, the EIC.
What are your biggest complaints about PR people?
They don think like journalists, they think like “flacks.” They present boring stories that they know my readers don’t care about. It is insulting to me and the publication. I write for my readers. Ultimately you want to be read by people. I like to someone to be on my level. There are good PR people out there, they know who they are.
Will Marketwatch.com change if WSJ.com goes free?
I don’t know. I wouldn’t want to speculate.
Are you looking into any trends for 2008?
No thank you. [Laughter]
So you don’t want to open up the PR floodgates?
The best way to reach me is through email. Phone calls are an intrusion from people.
If I don’t reply to you, you can assume I’m not interested. I do read every email I get.
Anything else you’d like to mention?
Thanks to PR people for all the help they’ve given me over the last year. Let’s continue to work together.