This week, I would like to introduce you to award-winning writer, author and Certified Animal Behavior Consultant (dogs and cats) Darlene Arden. Darlene has written hundreds of articles and columns for all of the major dog and cat publications, as well as newspapers and general interest publications. She is also an experienced television producer/host, and a lively guest expert on various radio and television programs. Darlene lives in Boston and shares her home with Aimee, a most divine feline! ~ Patricia
How do editors decide what makes a story “newsworthy”?
This is an excellent question. I sometimes wonder about it, too. Freelancers are either handed an assignment by an editor who has already made a decision or we are pitching a topic that we hope will suit the editor. That means we must be familiar with the market, what it has already covered, its readers, etc. Some topics are just “naturals.” It’s pretty obvious that if a new disease breaks out, the editor will want readers to have the latest information about it. Other topics are perennials like hot weather tips, pet safety, etc. Everything else is just an educated guess. The writer makes the best topic choice to pitch and the editor will either love it or hate it, or not get back to you for months. By then it has probably been pitched to another market. Hopefully, the editor’s goal is to inform and educate the readers.
What is your biggest pet peeve in working with publicists and folks who are promoting their companies and organizations?
I think when they waste time and space pitching the wrong client. That didn’t happen when everything was done by phone and snail mail. With the advent of the internet, it costs them nothing to do an e-blast and that can often feel like being spammed. I write about companion animals, not wildlife. And I really don’t write about horses even though they can be considered companion animals. Or I’ll get a pitch for something out of left field that not only has nothing to do with animals at all, but some topic in which I not only have no experience but absolutely no interest. A look at my website will show that I’ve written on a variety of topics but sports isn’t one of them, neither is the environment or any number of other topics that are pitched at me.
Where do you get your daily dose of pet/animal news? Websites, blogs, social media?
I read online science magazines, as well as websites for veterinarians, etc. If I see something interesting, I’ll follow the link. But I look at those things in much the way that I shop: I either see something that catches my eye or I’m out of there. We were promised that computers and the internet would make things so much easier for us but there’s so much coming at us that I believe we have far less time today than ever before. After awhile you really do get a feel for what will work for you and what won’t. Does it pique my interest? Is there a story there? Or is it just something I want to pass along on social networking?
I have two pet peeves. One is the bloggers who put out old information or simply don’t know how to research an article but they are pouring out stuff on a blog that can be anything but helpful to pet owners. They seem more concerned with search engine optimization and monetizing their blogs. There’s a responsibility to the reader and some of them seem to have missed that and really haven’t learned anything about journalism. They haven’t paid their dues. Anyone can create a blog these days but what you do with it is another matter. My other pet peeve has to do with today’s publicists. I remember the days when publicists and writers worked together. It was productive and fun. And then we moved into a phase where the publicists thought they were the clients and had a nasty attitude. Now, with the new young publicists I’m receiving personalized pitches that open with, “Hey Darlene.” HEY?! Are they kidding? Hi is fine but Hey is just unprofessional and tacky, not friendly.