Kelly Horan is an award-winning public radio producer who first joined WBUR in 1999. She is currently an editor of WBUR’s ideas and opinion page, Cognoscenti. In that role she is really a jack of all trades – editing stories covering a myriad of topics, recruiting contributors, and all the while keeping SEO and potential radio tie-ins in the back of her mind.
Kelly was kind enough to chat with me about what she looks for in a story, and how we as PR professionals can make her job easier. Here is what she had to say.
Q. What is Cognoscenti all about?
A. Cognoscenti is an ideas and opinions page where we cull from Boston’s thought leaders to get original ideas about issues that are both in the news and on the horizon. We range from politics, business and the economy to pop culture, religion and psychology. We are always interested in original voices and people who have expertise in a particular field or subject.
Q. Who are your biggest news competitors?
A. Probably the Boston Globe's Ideas section. There is a lot of synergy between what we do. Our Ideas pages are similar and they feature the same types of voices.
Q. What are you looking for when you receive story submissions?
A. When we receive submissions, we look at three things:
1) How well written is this piece, and how original is the thesis and strong the point of view?
2) What is the particular expertise of the author on this subject, and how high-profile is this contributor?
3) Is this a contributor we can cultivate a relationship with?
We are always looking to build relationships with new contributors, but if we think a piece is strong but may just be a one-off thing, we are less inclined to take it unless it is exceptionally well-written. We have close to 500 contributors, and the vast majority are contributing when they feel like it, which is something we are trying to move away from.
For any submission, however, I recommend tying it to a strong news peg. If it’s well-written and ready to go, we can turn it around quickly.
Q. Can you tell me about the commitment required from a regular contributor?
A. We have several types of regular contributors that really run the gamut: we have about a dozen contributing once a week, some contributing once a month and some every couple of months. There really is no average.
Q. How do you like to be pitched?
A. I prefer pitches that follow the steps on the Submission Guidelines page, which asks for all information to be pasted into an email (not sent as an attachment), along with one line explaining what the piece is about and why the author is uniquely qualified to write about this topic. I am always happy to give feedback on a pitch or a piece that we have turned down.
Q. What are your biggest PR pet peeves?
A. My #1 biggest pet peeve is when it is obvious that a piece is not written by the author. You can smell them a mile away and it drives us crazy. They are essentially a press release in the guise of an Ideas piece, including information on a particular organization and how great it is, and it lacks authenticity. Sometimes we also find that we never have contact with the person who actually wrote the piece and are only working with the PR representative, which is not ideal.
Q. How do you measure the impact of a story? Clicks? Social traction?
A. We actually look at both. We have noticed that social media is our big traffic driver – we get most referrals to stories through Facebook and Twitter. I was shocked by how few people seek out our homepage! We are actually in the process of redesigning our homepage, making a more flexible template that will support stories in different formats.
Q. What types of stories drive the most traffic?
A. Stories on religion and family do very well. Stories on Boston’s Olympic bid have also been doing very well. Also inequality, education (early and elementary) and anything to do with Boston. It helps when the author has huge social network.
Q. What is your favorite recent piece and why?
A. I tend to love very personal “slice-of-life” -type pieces, and pieces that have a very strong point of view and stay in your mind after you have finished reading.
Here are some of my recent favorites:
Driving While Black, While Not Actually Driving (By Jabari Asim) *This has continued to be the most popular piece on our web site
Q. Is there anything else you would like us to know?
A. I have heard some authors express disappointment in the headlines we use for their pieces, which I feel bad about. Please know that we write our headlines very deliberately for SEO purposes – we want to drive traffic to your story!