Welcome to the twenty eighth instalment of Monday #MusicMatters as part of the JAMS Canada PRO Series – “Here’s What I Know”.
We caught up with Jana Pruden for her insight on Connecting With Journalists
Where did your interest/passion as a journalist come from?
I often wish I had a more noble back story about how I got into this business. In reality, my interest in journalism started when I heard a song lyric while travelling, and decided — for no real reason!– that I would be a war correspondent. I talked my way into a job at a small weekly paper in Manitoba with no journalism or writing experience, other than some essays in university.
It was more than a decade before I heard the song on the radio, and realized I had totally misheard the lyric and it was actually about a “poor correspondent.”
That said, I have always been a reader and a lover of stories. So I like to think it was meant to be!
Did you know from the outset what kind of journalist you wanted to be?
I always thought I would want to do arts and lifestyle writing, since I love music, food, art, fashion, film, etc. But coming up at small papers I had to report on all kind of stories, and I was often surprised by the things I enjoyed writing about. What interested and inspired me wasn’t always what I would have expected. When I started covering court at the Regina Leader-Post, I found that I was particularly interested in crime and justice, and those stories have been an important part of my work ever since. My main interest is definitely in people, and I do like a fun or quirky story here and there. And, of course, investigative scarf stories, but so far that’s only come up once.
What should people know about writing press releases/stories to catch a journalist’s attention?
These are all very good questions. I think my best advice is to do some research, so that your pitches are going to the right people, meaning people who actually have the potential of writing about your work. Don’t just spam a whole newsroom. From there, make sure your pitch is professional. I get a lot of pitches that have nothing to do with me or my work, and even pitches that spell my name wrong. That’s not a good way to get someone to take your pitch seriously. I think email is better than phone, and if you have a “hook” that gives a reason to write the story, all the better. Editors like to ask, “Why this story? Why now?” and those are questions worth trying to address as you make your pitch. Don’t be afraid to follow up, and don’t get discouraged. Not every pitch will land, especially in such a busy news cycle. But keep trying.
Are there any strategies you can think of that could help musicians better connect with journalists to get their songs out to the public?
Social media is a great way to meet working journalists, especially in the current moment where there are less opportunities to interact in real life. You can get to know journalists on social media, including seeing what kinds of stories they write and are interested in, which I think will help you craft better pitches. A personal relationship, whether online or in real life, definitely isn’t a guarantee of coverage, but it may help someone pay a bit more attention to your pitch. And, at the least, maybe you’ll make some interesting new friends!
How has COVID-19 affected you?
I’ve worked from home for a few years, so on a day-to-day level my life actually hasn’t changed that much. I think like many others, the main thing is that I miss my friends and family, and I worry about the health and safety of those I love, and of my community. I’m grateful to have a safe place to live and food in the cupboard, and I’m doing what I can to support those who need help right now. Other than that, I’m hunkering down and looking forward to the day we can all be safely together again.
Jana G. Pruden is an award-winning feature writer at The Globe and Mail.
She is the former crime bureau chief of the Edmonton Journal, and previously worked at the Regina Leader-Post, the Medicine Hat News, the Prairie Post and the Interlake Spectator. She is also a sessional journalism instructor at MacEwan University and a presenter at Pandemic University Pop-Up School of Writing.
In 2020, Jana was chosen as the Minifie Lecturer at the University of Regina’s School of Journalism. Her lecture, entitled Give Me Rewrite: Drafting a New Future for Journalism, can be watched on video here, or read here.
Her story Fear on the Farm was named to Slate’s best crime writing 2013, and appeared in The Best American Sports Writing 2014 as a piece of Notable Sports Writing. In 2019, it was released in book form by Hingston & Olsen Publishing.
An annotated version of the story Street Fighter appears in Dan Rowe’s Feature Writing for Journalism and Media Students, a textbook published by Oxford University Press. She has won two first-place awards in the categories of Narrative Writing and Feature Specialty Writing Portfolio from the Society for Features Journalism.
One of her stories, Persepolis Found, became the loose inspiration for the Kevin Smith movie Yoga Hoser. You can hear an excerpt of Smith discussing the story through the Edmonton Journal, or listen to the whole episode, #288 Yoga Hoser, on Smith’s Smodcast.
In 2017, an Instagram-based feature. The Crichton Farm, won gold in two feature categories at the Digital Publishing Awards, and second place in Digital Innovation at the Society for Features Journalism.
Her 2018 feature After the Fire was named a Best Article on Longform, and was chosen as one of Longform’s best crime stories of 2018. The story also appeared as a top pick of 2018 in The Globe and Mail, and garnered a Citation of Merit in the Long Feature category of the National Newspaper Awards.
Jana has a Master of Fine Arts in nonfiction writing from Baltimore’s Goucher College. She is the founder of The Flat Worms Writing Studio, and was founder and co-host of The Bad Girls Movie Club at Metro Cinema.
Jana is a frequent presenter on issues related to journalism, nonfiction writing, and true crime reporting. Her Lougheed College Lecture, The Misery Beat: The Ethics of Reporting on Crime and Human Suffering, can be found here. It is also available in print from Hingston & Olson at Glass Bookshop.
Contact Jana by email, firstname.lastname@example.org or read her work in The Globe and Mail.
Find out more about Jana on Facebook @calamityjana, Instagram & Twitter @jana_pruden
Some contributors also responded with videos – please subscribe to our JAMS Canada YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC-CmaB7MV0r1ehhveBPmBEg