The Simple Art of Saying Thank You to Journalists in Today’s New Normal

The past few days have been gut wrenching, frightening, like nothing we have ever seen before. We are dealing with a new normal that will be here for the for-seeable future.  Our world has changed and we don’t know what is around the corner. First responders on the front lines at hospitals are courageous beyond imagination along with physicians, fire fighters and law enforcement. Employees at supermarkets, in transportation  systems and across a variety of essential services are shining examples of the heart and soul of this country. How do we possibly say thank you? Words don’t do justice to their heroism.

For our world of public relations and journalism, reporters in all media channels are navigating new waters. Mainstream and national media are covering coronavirus 24-7, while niche media is struggling for clarity (and in some cases, survival) but devoted to their particular category. As PR professionals, we are being tasked with the delicate question of what to pitch when? Is it okay? With trade shows being cancelled, how should new products be showcased? We asked this question to a number of journalists and, while the response was overwhelmingly trending towards virtual, the level of fear was pervasive – especially from freelancers with whom we have had long standing wonderful relationships over the years.

It was hard to ignore the anxiety level across all channels – it didn’t matter which. It was obvious with reporters in national, fashion, outdoor, sports and trade  – but especially those covering the coronavirus 24-7. The reporting has been exceptional and I thought it made sense to reach out and to say thank you and that is exactly what I did. The fact that I received so many responses from busy reporters at news desks working at warp speed shows we are all human beings trying to do the best we can. This simple gesture of saying thank you matters now more than ever.

Brian Stelter of CNN hosted an exceptional segment today about how the world of journalism will change. Sally Buzbee, executive editor of the Associated Press, said she thought that this, “pandemic is the Olympics of explanatory journalism.” She was joined by Matt Murray, executive editor of the Wall Street Journal, and Jeff Goldberg, executive editor of The Atlantic. With the House and the Senate struggling to reach an agreement on a stimulus package to help American in need, Mr. Stelter showed raw emotion with the plea to, “Come on, get it done.”

I reached out to Ms. Buzbee, Mr. Murray and Mr. Goldberg, with a simple thank you, hearing back with comments such as; “Thank you, that is very kind. Our journalists are inspirational – they fill me with admiration every day. We are determined to tell this story and stay safe doing it. Wishing you all the best to you and your family. These are rough and weird and anxious times, but I think and hope that strong institutions and companies and people can make their way through them,” and “Chris, Thanks for the nice note and for all you’re doing. Hope you’re business gets through all this OK–and that you and your loved ones are doing well during this strange time.”

I also reached out to Dean Baquet, executive editor of the New York Times, along with Maggie Haberman and Peter Baker who cover politics for the Times commenting on their extraordinary effort in today’s trying times. I heard back from all of them with similar sentiments:

  • “Thank you. This means a lot to me and my colleagues.”
  • “Belatedly, thanks so much. Please stay safe and healthy.”
  • “Thank you, that means a lot. It’s very kind of you. These are remarkable times and I’m never sure that journalism can fully meet the challenge, but we’ll keep trying. Very appreciative of your support. Hope you and yours are safe and healthy.”

In exchanging emails today, I discovered that while working New York’s City Hall, I had worked with Ms. Haberman’s father, Clyde Haberman, the respected bureau chief of the New York Times. We shared a virtual smile.

There are too many responses to include in this piece, but one that really touched a nerve was from an old friend who covers retail at a national desk. I asked her how she was and she said, “I am Ok. Thank you. I have a bit of anxiety how are you?” Sobering.

We don’t know what the future holds, but we know the grace we may all elicit from simply saying thank you.