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May 16, 2003

How High-Tech Companies Can Get Covered in the Chicago Tribune

SUMMARY: If you want to influence high-tech buyers in the Midwest, first you have to get the Chicago Tribune's Christine Tatum to cover your company in her articles. Check out our interview with Tatum in which she reveals her pet peeves and preferences.
Christine Tatum
Technology Reporter and Producer
Chicago Tribune
435 N. Michigan Ave.
Chicago, IL 60611-4022

-> Circulation
Print Daily: 679,327
Print Sunday: 1,012,240
Online: 1,000,000+ readers/month

-> Tatum’s background

Christine Tatum, technology reporter and producer for the Chicago Tribune, moved from North Carolina to Chicago 10 years ago (she still has a trace of a Southern accent). She has been working for the Tribune Company since 1997, and has been doing technology since 2000.

She covers technology for the newspaper and Web, produces the technology section of, and discusses technology issues on a weekly local cable news channel segment called Downloads.

“I’m one of very few reporters in the tower who works across media,” she says.

Tatum is passionate about the field of journalism and is on the board of the Society of Professional Journalists (

-> Current editorial coverage

When it comes to technology, Tatum wants to know how to use it, how to integrate it, how to improve workplace efficiency—anything that incorporates technology into lifestyles.

She is also interested in the B2B angle, but she does not want to know how one business serves another. “We want readers to understand how technology has an impact on them,” she says. “So a B2B story has to have a strong consumer angle or it dramatically weakens the story idea.”

-> Best way to pitch Tatum

“It’s increasingly difficult to provide a magic bullet,” Tatum says. “How to pitch a reporter is not one size fits all, by any means.”

The best way, she says, is to build a relationship with her. “Approach me when I’m at an event, or take the time to give me a phone call.” When you reach her, give her a quick pitch. If she is intrigued, she will ask you to send her an email—and she will give you a code word to use in the subject heading.

In the email, tell her everything you want her to know. Then, sit back and wait, and do not follow up. “I’ll acknowledge that I received your email,” she says. “If I follow up with you, then I’m interested. If you don’t hear from me, my silence should have spoken loudly enough. Pitch me on another story.”

Tatum changes her code words every now and then to help her manage the hundreds of emails she receives daily.

Here are 5 big mistakes when pitching Tatum:

A. Reading to her over the phone.
“It’s death to anybody who tries this,” says Tatum. “They read the press release to me, and I can tell they’re doing it. It’s highly annoying.”

B. Blasting an email pitch.
“Few things are more annoying than being intrigued by an email pitch and then finding out it’s been blasted to everyone. I’ve taken people to task for doing that,” she says. “I’ll just ignore it.”

C. Cutesy subject lines.
“I’m always looking for reasons to delete an email. If I don’t understand it, I’ll delete it.”

D. Using “press release” or “story idea” in the subject heading.
Again, she will simply delete them.

E. Telling her that “earnings are up.”
“Like I’ll do a story on someone just because they’ve managed to stay in business,” she says.

-> What Tatum looks for in a story pitch

First, do your homework. Think about how people actually use this stuff. Then:

#1. Provide contacts
Tell her about the local library that is using the technology, or the local police station, and give contact names and numbers. Linking her only with the CEO is not going to work.

#2. Respond to something she has written.
Go to her column page at Read her column and respond to her. “That’s a nice point of entry,” she says.

#3. Become a better source.
“Don’t just call me when you want me to write something,” she says. “Call to see what I’m working on and tell me if you have someone in your portfolio who could be a suitable source.”

#4. Build a relationship.
“I’m plugged into the journalism community through the Society of Professional Journalists,” she says. Try volunteering to do advocacy work for the journalism industry. She always welcomes people who have marketing, public relations, and sales in their backgrounds.

DO NOT show up and pitch a story idea. Instead, establish a friendship that does not have anything to do with wanting something from her.

“There’s one PR guy who I listen to everything he says because he has been such an amazing advocate,” Tatum says.

-> Submitting pre-written contributions

Tatum frequently runs commentary on the Web site, so if you are knowledgeable about technology and in the Chicago area, you have got a chance to be published. She will not pay you, but you will get a byline and a picture, if you send her one. She will even print your email address (so you can get a ton of email responses and “feel what it’s like to be me,” she says).

A typical commentary is witty and well-written—something like, “Hey, I just learned how to use my palm pilot,” or, “My company deals with SPAM and here’s why I think the SEC should get off their duffs...”

You also get an announcement in the newspaper to look for your column online.

-> Where you can meet Tatum

She does not have time to do lunches or coffee, but she is often out and about in the Chicago area. She will not announce where you can find her, but checking the calendar of the Headline Club (the local chapter of the Professional Journalists Society) at might be a good start, since she is so involved.

Local technology conferences are a good bet, too, as she is often invited to speak.

-> What she looks for in printed press materials

If a press kit is very nicely packaged and introduces a company with a folder and biographies, she will take a cursory look. Otherwise, she will only look at printed materials if she has requested them.

With Tatum, pretend the fax does not exist.

-> A final note

The Headline Club and PR Newswire have teamed up to create a series of workshops for PR professionals taught by working journalists. The next one, on June 10, focuses on communication with the media: Knowing whom, how, and when to pitch, and learning how to be a good source.

Tatum taught at the last workshop, so you probably will not meet her there. Still, they have got Ben Bradley of Channel 7, Kelly Williams of People, Rob Hess of CNN Chicago, Lucio Guerrero of the Chicago Sun Times, and others—so if you are interested in getting to know some people in the industry, it is a good place to start.

Check out for more information.
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