At RPG, we embrace curiosity and a growth mindset – so we regularly share knowledge and information, teach and learn from each other, and encourage discussions about the PR industry and the clients we serve. With that in mind, Reporter Bites was born.
Reporter Bites is a conversation series where we invite a reporter to join the agency for an open discussion over food (breakfast in San Francisco, lunch in Boston, New York and Raleigh and dinner in the U.K.). These conversations are goldmines for both the reporter and RPG – providing an open forum to discuss journalism and PR and the chance to ponder the conversations that will matter in the future.
Karen Weintraub, is a reporter we have had the pleasure of working with for many years now. She currently covers COVID-19 and vaccine development for USA Today. Prior to her position at USA Today, she spent a decade as a health and science freelance journalist, contributing regularly to The New York Times, The Washington Post, Scientific American, STAT and others. Previously, she worked at The Boston Globe, and was an adjunct journalism professor at the Harvard Extension School and Boston University. An author of a few books, Karen describes herself as a “health and science journalist with a knack for telling complex news quickly and a passion for telling stories that affect people’s lives.”
Karen brought candor and energy to our conversation. This particularly hit home: “I was not a science person at all. I hated science as a kid, more or less, but have been totally sucked in and fascinated by it. To me, the medical stories are endlessly interesting, the human drama…there is so much pathos and interest in these stories…I find the scientists to be very interesting; those who devoted their lives to the snow leopard, or whatever. They are very passionate about what they do and it’s kind of fun to spend time with them. Penguin researchers are particularly interesting, I’ve found. I’ve really enjoyed that aspect of the job – talking to passionate people.”
According to Karen, her urban studies and political science background has helped her understand people who do not live in a world of science. “So I try to write for people who are smart but not educated in science,” she said. “One of the things that struck me as a science writer is how much I have been able to understand without that science background. My hope is to make other people feel the same way – you don’t have to have a Ph.D. to understand the science or get what’s going on. So that’s something I feel very strongly about in my writing.”
Karen shared a few other insights in our session:
- Her experience with PR professionals is generally positive. Her mom was a long-time PR professional.
- She uses her close relationships with people at academic institutions to secure sources and help inform her scientific writing.
- Karen reads all incoming emails and tries to answer the personalized pitches.
- Previously, she’s used article ideas from cold emails.
- Luck is a major contributor to finding her sources. It’s about landing your pitch in the reporter’s inbox at the right time (which isn’t usually right after they’ve covered the same topic).
- Reporters are time-starved. Karen recommended keeping pitches quick and adding detail only when the news is very interesting.
- Karen made sure to note that receiving multiple pitches from the same PR professional every day is annoying.
- She finds that talking to patients and getting their stories told is hugely rewarding, as is sharing the innovative treatments and healthcare technology solutions helping them (e.g. gene therapy is finally reaching patients, but it takes a long time).
- Karen makes an effort to process complex stories and write them in a way that’s accessible and understandable for all.
- She loves in-person interviews and won’t say no to tours. She greatly missed meeting with patients in-person during the pandemic.
We (and our peers) found the open exchange of thoughtful ideas – on journalism, public relations, healthcare and technology – incredibly valuable. We will continue to invite journalists of all backgrounds to come chat with us because, together, we shape the #conversationsthatmatter.