We all might be pitching this kid someday

May 19, 2011

What college student Daniel Lippman can teach every PR person about building relationships with the media

He’s on a first-name basis with some of the most influential media in the world. And he hasn’t yet graduated from college.

I first learned about Daniel Lippman when reading On The Media, the online site of the PBS radio show.

The article told the story of a George Washington University student who had managed to ingratiate himself with some of the most influential media in the world, all from inside his college dorm room.

I found out more by searching for Daniel on Google and discovering when Daniel was 15, The New Yorker and CNN had reported on how he had engaged top White House officials in online chats.

Since media is my first love, I had to learn more. So I chatted up Daniel on the phone, and the result was one of the most refreshing conversations about media relations I have had in the past few years. His positive, youthful view of American journalism gave me great hope that I thought was worthwhile sharing.

Greg Matusky: Thanks for taking a few moments out of your day to speak with us, Daniel. Tell us, how did you begin interacting with the media and why?

Daniel Lippman: I started with my hometown newspaper before my senior year of high school. I noticed some errors in the local newspaper, The Berkshire Eagle, so I sent the editor, Tim Farkas, an e-mail pointing out the mistakes.

GM: What was his response?

DL: He was happy that someone was reading the newspaper that carefully and had an eye for detail. He was thankful, which led me to intern for the newspaper the summer before my senior year of high school.

GM: And then, when you were at boarding school you managed to engage in online conversations with some pretty high-profile White House officials. Tell us about that.

DL: At the time, the Bush White House started an online service, Ask the White House, an online chat with government and other officials. It let anyone submit a question and talk directly to government officials. I was fortunate enough to talk with the then secretaries of the treasury, commerce, and energy.

GM: Which led to some pretty lofty media taking note.

DL: That’s right. A freelance reporter for The New Yorker was doing a story about these online chats, and found my name on the White House chat sessions, and did a small piece about me. That led to CNN coming to my school and doing a feature about me and the service.

GM: So then you go to GW and you take on a new role with the media that has opened some incredible doors into political journalism — I’ll call it citizen copy editing. How does that work?

DL: Well, I read a lot of articles and wire service reports, everything from Reuters to TheAtlantic.com, and you can’t help but notice every so often a name is misspelled or a fact is incorrect. So I send the reporter an e-mail with the correction as a service to the media that I read.

GM: You do it in an interesting way without bias or partisanship.

DL: I always start off with something like, “In your interesting article,” and then I reference the sentence where the mistake occurs and link to the correction. I don’t try to beat anyone up. It’s always matter-of-fact style. Usually, the media is appreciative that someone is reading their stories and interested in accuracy. They’re typically happy to admit the oversight and thank me for helping. I have had a few instances where reporters question my motives and tell me they’re not interested in hearing from me, but that’s rare.

GM: And quite to the contrary of upsetting the powers that be, you have become a celebrity of sort among the Washington press corp?

DL: I don’t know about that. I certainly don’t go looking for the limelight. But the approach has been noticed by many in the press.

GM: The On The Media segment tells the interesting story of when you visited the D.C. bureau of the AP.

DL: It was a cool thing to do. Bureau Chief Ron Fournier asked if I could visit them, so we arranged a time and I met AP reporters. It’s a big bureau with lots of the people I had been in touch with over the years. They were impressed that I had time to review their pieces and appreciated meeting. Their offices are right out of the movies with reporters working at their desks and lots of screens blaring the news.

GM: So what do you read on a daily basis?

DL: I read The New York Times, a lot on the Web, The Washington Post, the AP, Politico.com, Reuters, and blogs, lots of political blogs. TheAtlantic.com. Andrew Sullivan and others.

GM: So what are your plans after college?

DL: I want to go into journalism or politics.

GM: Well you certainly have opened a lot of doors in that direction. Is there any advice to other students who might want to make an impact in this digital age?

DL: I think you have to be respectful toward the media and understand that they have a job to do. It’s not wise to try to block or spin them. But just try to engage and certainly read their work.

GM: And finally, what are your thoughts on the state of American journalism?

DL: I think American journalism is pretty strong right now, even with all the budget and job cutbacks, and advertising revenue declines. Still, American journalists are producing great articles that recount events and expose what is really going on. For instance, the Bin Laden story has so many interesting facets to it. American journalism is still covering all of them. So I think American journalism is going pretty well right now, and I hope to become a part of it in the future.

GM: Daniel, thanks for chatting today.

DL: You’re welcome.

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