Getting the Scoop on Top Reporters
Zagier, Alan, American Journalism Review
You're interviewing the chairman of a major company about corporate travel expenses. He senses your next question will be a tough one and attempts to change the subject.
"So," he says, "I see you're an avid sculptor and your husband went to Berkeley, my alma mater."
How did he know that? He may have hired a psychic or private detective. But it's more likely he subscribes to one of several services that provide biographical information on reporters and grades their interviewing, research and writing skills.
The latest is Press Profiles, offered since March through a Chicago public relations firm, Werle + Brimm. For $185, media-savvy corporate suits can obtain access to a database of "evaluations" of at least 200 reporters, editors and columnists.
According to Chuck Werle, a former Milwaukee Journal reporter who created Press Profiles, journalists are rated confidentially by executives they have interviewed. The ratings are done on a scale of 1 to 10 in eight categories, including accuracy, interviewing skills, writing ability, integrity, knowledge of subject and personality. The questionnaires conclude by asking if the executive can recommend "without qualifications" that others cooperate with the journalist.
Werle says the service, which has been attracting as many as four new subscribers each day, protects image-conscious corporate types from being caught off-guard.
"If you know something about the reporter, it is to your advantage," he explains. "So many times there's a hidden agenda. The unsuspecting CEO or chairman gets caught in a trap."
Werle declined to provide scores given to specific reporters in his database, although he did offer several tally sheets with the names blacked out. He says total scores have been averaging around 8, somewhat higher than he expected. Because numerous evaluations are usually submitted for each journalist, the impact of any individual ax grinder is diluted, he says.
Press Profiles is the newest, but not the only, service that rates journalists. From 1986 until last year, former Wall Street Journal Associate Editor Jude Wanniski had scored members of the national press in his annual "Media Guide." Wanniski, who left the Journal in 1978 to launch a financial consulting firm in New Jersey, says his guide offered constructive criticism of the work of hundreds of journalists. Each was rated on a four-star system based on accuracy, fairness, writing skills, consistency and other criteria.
Wanniski recently sold his guide to Forbes, although he remains an editor The 1993 edition sells for $19.95 and includes detailed critiques of the nation's 50 most important" journalists. In addition to continuing Wanniski's four-star system, the guide ranks the year's best stories and columns. …