Lost art of using phone is bad trend for journalism, public relations

phoneExcerpts from my latest column for Poynter:

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At the dawn of 2015, I made a New Year’s resolution. I vowed to try to rely less on email and actually use the good old-fashioned phone to reach out to public relations people on my various beats. Even if I didn’t have anything on the agenda, I planned to dial someone’s number just to see what was going on.

You know, how’s the family? What’s the latest at your place?

Of course, New Year’s resolutions never stick. So along with my vow to read more and eat less, I haven’t come close to calling PR folks as much as I had hoped.

I make that admission to show that I am just as guilty as anyone in being part of a horrible trend in media: Journalists and PR people have forgotten how to use the phone.

I’m not saying nobody uses the phone. However, I am fairly confident about this thought: Perhaps not since Alexander Graham Bell unveiled his new invention has the phone been used less in media interactions at many levels.

“If [using the phone] has become a lost art, that’s a damn shame,” said Vince Wladika, the former PR head for Fox Sports who now does consulting for companies like Comcast and Tribune Media.

Indeed, it’s all about sending emails, texting, and communicating through social media these days. If you are a reporter, think about how many calls you receive from PR representatives making a story pitch. I’m fairly sure the answer is, not many.

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Malcolm Moran, the director of the sports journalism program at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, believes there’s something even bigger at stake with the heavy reliance on emails.

“The technology has overtaken relationship building and maintenance,” Moran said.

Indeed, relationships seem to be the biggest casualty of the email/text age. They can’t be the same when reporters and PR people aren’t having phone conversations, much less face-to-face contact [another infrequent exercise].

Wladika wondered if enough emphasis is being put on relationship building at the college level.

“Are people being taught to cultivate their contacts?” Wladika said.

Moran can’t speak for other schools, but he emphasizes it to his students.

“I tell them, ‘If you’re not making an effort to get to know [a PR person], why would they have reason to share anything with you?’” Moran said.

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