Jonathan Handel, an entertainment attorney in Los Angeles wrote about his experience as a blogger and now a journalist.  He gave me permission to post this article which originally appeared on MuckRack.

“I appreciate your fair coverage of the Writers Guild strike,” read the short email I received almost seven years ago. This was gratifying, but also startling, because I wasn’t covering anything. That’s what reporters do, and I wasn’t one. I was an entertainment/technology attorney who was just doing some blogging.

Well, actually, a lot of blogging. I was posting every other day.

A lot of it was original, in-depth analysis, but I didn’t equate that with reporting. I’d also become an oft-quoted interview subject on the strike and other entertainment law and business subjects, but I knew that didn’t make me a journalist.

And yet, there it was: my “fair coverage.” It was certainly true that I was trying to be fair. But the “coverage” part remained a puzzle.

A few months later, a newspaper reporter who’d been quoting me with regularity abruptly stopped. When I rather inappropriately asked why, his answer was immediate: “because you’re a competitor now.”

And he was right, since my blog was being read by key leaders throughout the industry and I was occasionally breaking stories. I was still a lawyer and blogger, but had somehow lost my amateur standing.

My journey towards journalism had begun almost imperceptibly in early 2007 when my law firm, TroyGould, engaged a PR firm to get us in the press and attract more business. The publicist, Cheryl Bame, began to find me placements on various websites and also persuaded me to start blogging.

By mid-year, negotiations between the Hollywood studio alliance and the screenwriters union – the Writers Guild – were in the news as discussions began to founder primarily on the rocks of the Internet. Even back in 2007, new media business models were beginning to outrun the barnacle-encrusted collective bargaining agreements that govern Hollywood labor relations.

Since my law practice encompassed new media and I had once worked at the Guild, albeit a decade and a half earlier, Cheryl audaciously positioned me as an expert and set up a lunch with Variety. I wasn’t so confident, but after reacquainting myself with the details of the nearly incomprehensible 400-page union agreement, I realized I now knew more about the contractual disagreements than almost anyone except the partisans themselves.

The meeting with Variety went well, and to my surprise I began to get quoted. I reached out to other media and found willing ears at almost every outlet. And I discovered I had a talent for soundbites.

Into the Spotlight

In November, the writers’ negotiations collapsed and a bitter strike began. The story was white hot, and it was easy for me to find the journalists on the beat, because the Guild and the studio alliance had each posted clipping files on their websites. They’d also posted their contract demands – pages of legalese like this, replete with references to reruns, residuals, receipts, ringtones and things like “Article 13.B.5.a.(8)” – pretty much anything that started with an “R” or sounded  like it, as Lewis Carroll might have observed.

It all made sense to pretty much no one except those trained in the field – which I was. Few others were, and none of them were talking, save occasionally for the partisans on both sides. I steered a middle course, and soon an avalanche of outlets began to contact me, for background as well as quotes.

I found myself sometimes doing six interviews a day, one day even an NPR phoner from the aisle of a Southwest jet. My inboxes overflowed with journalists. Even my blog got on TV. It was wonderful insanity.

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post invited me to blog on their platform, and I somehow found time to write, a lot. Fall turned into winter, and still the writers struck, both in LA, where “winter” is a relative term, and New York, where it isn’t. Actors supported the picket lines and boycotted the January Golden Globes, destroying the ceremony and turning the event into a cut-rate press conference. Globes without glamour presaged the possible fate of the Oscars, and with that deadline looming, both sides blinked and finally reached a deal in February 2008.

After the strike ended came a couple months of relative quiet, and then with growing violence the Screen Actors Guild began to tear itself apart over the same Internet issues that the writers, directors and even another actors union had already settled. A second strike seemingly loomed, though in the end what resulted was more of a lockout. Feature film production slowed to a crawl as the SAG contract expired, and the summer brought doldrums for the movie business.

But not for reporters. With blood once again in the water, the coverage ratcheted back up, and once again I was blogging and getting interviewed while juggling my law practice. BBC phoners from the Cannes Film Festival were fun, as was my Los Angeles Business Journal guest piece, also Cannes-datelined, that led with “Do loose clips sink ships?” – a reference to just one of the many arcana that bedeviled the actor’s union (clip consent, or the right to control the Internet use of short clips of TV shows and movies).

Later I wrote an investigative article, “Inside the SAG Boardroom,” which exposed the shenanigans that ensued during a bizarre 28-hour closed meeting of the Guild’s 80-member board of directors. Weeks later came a suit against the union by its own president. If the writers strike had been a tragedy of poor negotiation, the SAG stalemate was history repeating itself as farce, seemingly without end.

When the discord finally calmed down, in mid-2009, so did my life. I occupied some of my new spare time turning the blog posts into a book, Hollywood on Strike!, and figured that my days in the middle of breaking news were over, at least until the inevitable next Hollywood labor disturbance. That was an event I pegged at six to nine years out, with an eye on the triennial contract cycles of the high-profile writers, actors and directors unions. But I was missing a piece of the puzzle.

Opportunity Knocks

In July 2010 – after a scant year of labor peace – I got a call from Matt Belloni, then an editor (and now executive editor) at The Hollywood Reporter. “We hear that the Teamsters might strike,” Matt said, referring to the truck drivers who move Hollywood equipment and who could shut the town down even more quickly than the writers had. “Do you know anything about that?”

There was something unusual about the call, and not just that another labor disturbance would have required history to do a hat trick. Matt didn’t cover labor, and his question was an oddly open-ended way of beginning an interview. What was up?

“No,” I replied cautiously, drawing out the vowel and ending with something approximating a question mark.

“Do you want to look into it and write about it for us?” Matt asked.

I stared at the phone. This was certainly unexpected.

“Does it pay?” I asked. The HuffPo didn’t, of course, but I wasn’t going to be a reporter for free.

“Yes,” Matt answered, “though not as well as being a lawyer.” I could live with that. I’d admired journalists since Woodward and Bernstein.

My first piece on the Teamsters appeared a few days later, top of page one, bumping Leo DiCaprio to what would be below the fold if the 8-1/2″ x 11″ format had a fold. I wrote four or five other pieces. A month after the situation resolved – no strike this time – I pitched a different story and wrote several more articles.

Not long after, I was named a contributing editor. I’ve covered labor for THR ever since, as well as various legal and other matters (Hollywood sex abuse lawsuits, the Aereo Supreme Court case, a trip to Mars and more), as my Muck Rack portfolio reflects.

I also freelance – and, in what is no doubt an unusual arrangement, I continue to practice law. Although the time commitments sometimes clash, it works, because I don’t practice in the specific areas that I cover, and because I avoid conflicts of interest in both professions. In fact, being a lawyer has helped me immeasurably with stories and sources, as has my computer science background prior to law school.

Is my journey a snapshot from the future or just an unusual outlier? That’s a story for someone else to write.

Some say blogging will be the end of journalism. Maybe – but for me, at least, it was also the beginning.

 

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Client Alerts in a Perfect World

by Cheryl on September 5, 2014

In a perfect world, PR professionals would be alerted when a lawyer or team of attorneys starts writing a client alert. That’s because many client alert ideas are generated way before the finished product is posted to a website or sent to my inbox.

I realize that the attorneys do not often think of us when they see something that is newsworthy or a development in their industry that their clients need to know about. But, I wish they would. If given the heads up, we, as PR professionals, can do more than just try to find a home for an alert that most often is days or weeks old, and posted well after the media has moved on from its coverage.

Here are some tips to help your attorneys think of PR before they put fingers to a keyboard:
1. When you hear or read of a development in the law or your target industry, contact someone in a communication role before you start writing. It’s simple, but attorneys need to be reminded.
2. Provide the PR professional a brief (two – four sentences of what this means for the industry or your clients). We do not need the entire alert to generate media interviews or secure an article.
3. Let us know when the client alert is going to be ready. This way, we can get a deadline to the editor.

What you should know is that more and more trade publications are requiring first run articles. That means if your attorneys post a blog or client alert to a website, the editors will look at it as previously published material and may not consider it for their publication. So, make sure the client alert is brief and not a full article.

It’s unfortunate that many PR professionals, whether in-house or outside a firm, are the last to know. In a perfect world, we would be the first.

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Congrats! You Are the Best Lawyer. Now What?

August 22, 2014

 Congrats! You have been chosen as one of the best lawyers in America. The best place to post this listing is your bio, the firm’s website, the news section under press releases. You can even send it out via social media channels. But, do not send it to a newspaper expecting it will make the cover [...]

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Going Viral: Ice, Ice Baby!

August 18, 2014

Have you dumped a bucket of ice over your head yet?  If not, you may be the only person to not participate in ALS Association’s Ice Bucket Challenge. Anyone who studies the practice of PR has to give props to the ALS Association for its cool idea.  Here is how it started.
News reports indicate even ALS was [...]

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Expect Your Internal Memo to Get Leaked

July 15, 2014

When you write a memo for an internal audience you have to assume that it will be leaked. Above the Law has proven this over and over again. The website is known for easily acquiring internal memos which often become the source of its stories, especially the juicy ones. It is naïve, but I assume firms [...]

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Above The Law’s BigLaw Firm Survey

July 2, 2014

Above The Law just launched what looks like another insignificant survey. The site is asking people to rank a select group of firms based on 1) reputed strength and quality of the firm’s practice and 2) desirability of the firm as a potential employer.
I am sure this is one list that most law firms won’t [...]

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Media Training 101: Landon Donovan’s Emotionless Coverage of World Cup Soccer

June 24, 2014

Landon Donovan did not prepare for his role as TV commentator for ESPN as he would have had he actually been playing in the match. And he should have known better. If any of you watched the stone-faced Donovan after the last minute draw in the USA v. Portugal match you know what I mean. [...]

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Everything You Need to Know about Not Doing PR Yourself

June 9, 2014

In an article published on Fast Company’s website, Dave Llorens and Ashley Seashore did the business community a huge disservice by telling entrepreneurs that they can handle their own PR. They can’t and they shouldn’t. Fast Company couldn’t get away with an article written by an in-house counsel called “Why your startup shouldn’t hire a [...]

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Guy Kawaski’s Guide to Using of Social Media to Tell Your Story

May 12, 2014

Guy Kawasaki, entrepreneur and author as well as the chief evangelist of Apple in the late 90’s, recently launched an online class ‘Art of the Start: Turning Ideas into High Growth Business” where he discusses how small businesses can tell their stories on social media.

Richard Feloni at Business Insider published a Q&A today with Kawasaki who talked about [...]

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New California Attorneys Asked to Adopt ’No Jerk’ Pledge

May 5, 2014

Can you imagine the Legal Marketing Association, LFMP or the Public Relations Society of America issuing a notice reminding its members to conduct themselves with ‘dignity, courtesy and integrity?”
It’s how the California Chapters of the American Board of Trial Advocates (ABOTA) is asking new members of the bar to behave.  The CA State Bar supported this too.
At [...]

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