Insights from Journalists on Effective Collaboration with PR Professionals: A Q&A with Tech Reporter Steven Aquino
By Sydney Stressman
I have worked with Steven Aquino many times and have gotten to know him well over the years. His work as an accessibility and assistive technology reporter holds so much importance. He has my utmost respect. Today, I had the opportunity to interview Steven about his job, reporting on accessibility in the technology sector, and his perspective on working with public relations professionals.
Thank you, Steven, for taking the time to share your insights with me. You can read Steven’s stories on Forbes here: https://www.forbes.com/sites/stevenaquino/
Can you briefly introduce yourself and your background as a technology reporter?
Hi there! My name is Steven Aquino, and I’m a freelance technology reporter based in San Francisco. I’ve been running a one-man newsroom full-time since May 2013.
You can read more about my journey on my portfolio site.
As to my beat, I cover all things accessibility and assistive technologies. Classically, that pertains to the hardware and software of products like the iPhone. Over time, I’ve grown and evolved my coverage to encompass lots of ways disability and technology intersect. They include healthcare, adaptive clothing, autonomous vehicles, and even Hollywood with film and television. So long as tech companies such as Amazon and Apple insist on leveraging their massive war chests to roll their own streaming services, the tie-ins will remain strong and utterly relevant.
How long have you been reporting on technology/DEI topics, and what motivated you to focus on this field?
As I said, I’ve been a journalist since 2013. Next May marks 11 years.
How I got started in the industry is kind of a long story, but suffice it to say I’ve always loved to write and I’ve always been told I’m *really* good at it. In my prior life teaching special education preschool, I was the school’s unofficial IT person—always setting up devices like computers, iPads, iPods, and more. We used iPads to augment the curriculum with my students, and I wrote about it in my first-ever bylined story. That story immediately went semi-viral, so much so that it got picked up by Apple and their PR team reached out, which led me to snowball to opportunity after opportunity after opportunity that shaped what my career looks like today.
Can you share examples of successful collaborations or interactions you’ve had with PR reps? What are some common misconceptions reporters might have about working with PR folks?
I have experience covering companies big and small, from behemoths like Apple, Google, and Microsoft to smaller, scrappy startups. I’ve attended media events and received regular review units of key products such as the iPhone. Those all involved cultivating and nurturing relationships with PR folks over all these many years.
As for misconceptions, I think reporters are oftentimes jaded in thinking PR folks exist merely to market and push happy/favorable coverage. That’s true to a certain extent, but the majority of my interactions are with people who not only have a job to do for a living, but who are genuinely interested and believe in whatever they’re selling.
What communication strategies do you find most effective when working with PR professionals, such as pitches (length), press releases, research, and more?
I typically work with the usual email pitches and press releases. I also find email interviews more accessible for me, although I know you learn in journalism school they aren’t the best because it’s harder to press people and ask follow-up questions. I get that logic, but email interviews really do make my job easier and more expedient.
I’ve also found texting with PR people more accessible too. It’s easier and more efficient than using email and has the side benefit of being an avenue by which to cultivate the personal end of the relationship. I’m very much an introvert, and texting has enabled me to establish long-standing relationships with people that transcend work. It’s been a great tool with which to network on multiple levels. Of course, I’m not super close with every single person this way, but the point is having a person’s personal number implies trust and care.
How can PR professionals best tailor their communications to meet the needs of technology reporters? Are there any specific elements or information that you consider essential in a press release or pitch related to technology/DEI topics?
I think it’s important not just to mass-mail a press release and call it a day. If possible, I think it’s more prudent (for both of us) to have the comms person tell me a story—tell me what, then why, and let me decide. Sometimes a press release is okay and all I need, but more often they feel sterile and lack the deeper context that’s crucial for my reporting on such an abstract, wide-ranging topic and community.
What are some best practices for PR professionals to build positive relationships with reporters of any beat? How can they effectively pitch stories and information to you?
Don’t be transactional. I know what your job is and you know mine. But we’re also human beings who thrive on interpersonal relationships. You don’t have to be besties with everybody—that’s impossible—but some of the best relationships I enjoy right now masterfully straddle that line between professional and personal. And we’re both better off.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers about the dynamics of working with PR professionals?
Three big points I get asked about an awful lot.
- Just because I agree to interview your client does not automatically guarantee coverage on my end. It’s kinda like a job interview—I’ll interview a bunch of people, but I’m not hiring all of them.
- I’m not sending you interview questions in advance unless we’ve agreed on doing an email Q&A.
- And I’m definitely not sending you my story prior to publication so you and/or your client can inspect it. That’s not at all how reporting works, unless in certain circumstances.