The Washington Post's Hart

She’s been writing about Washington metro area companies for a year now, and her by-line has become synonymous with Virginia and technology (as well as several other metro are a business topics). Her most recent story covers the recent departure of Kristi Hedges from SheaHeadges, and the subsequent creation of SpeakerBox Communications. Soon she will join us in blog nation as part of the Washington Post’s technology blog, “Post I.T.” Read on for Kim’s insights about being called, “Mr. Hart” by a flack, newspaper blogging, journalism and PR.

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What made you decide to go into journalism?

I have always gravitated toward writing. In Florida, I was an editor of my high school newspaper, and naturally followed that by working at my college newspaper and hometown paper as well. I actually tried out a few other majors, including physical therapy and even pre-med, but my first physics class quickly proved that I wasn’t cut out for it. I also have a background in public relations, running a few campus-wide campaigns and a student-run public relations firm. Some journalists shun that kind of experience on the so-called “dark side,” but I think it’s actually very helpful to be able to relate to the pressures of people on both sides of the journalism fence.

How did you end up at the Washington Post?

During my last semester of grad school at the University of Maryland, one of my professors threw an application for an internship at the Post on my desk and said, “You should apply. You won’t get it, but do it anyway.”

So, with his encouragement, or lack thereof, I sent in the application a day before it was due, expecting nothing to come of it. Then, I moved back to Florida after graduating in December 2005, and was byside myself because I was utterly unemployed. I got a call one morning from the Post, saying I had gotten an internship in the business section. My dumbfounded response: “Uh, are you sure you got the right person?” I had never been a business reporter before, but the recruiter assured me that there was no mix-up. I started June 2006 as a summer intern, and stayed on to become a local business reporter after that.

What’s your favorite aspect of reporting?

My job is to meet interesting people, observe fascinating companies and learn about the dynamic relationship between society, technology and money. And then I get to write about it. Talking to people and learning about what makes them tick is really my favorite part of this job–it determines everything about how a business community works.

Are you excited about blogging?

After hearing for years about the rise of bloggers, I see blogging as an interesting experiment for me. Blogs are a great platform to get news out there, even if it’s just short tidbits that might not necessarily make it into the paper. Especially in a place like Northern Virginia, where networking rules all and everyone wants to know what’s happening on the other side of Tysons Corner.

I will be writing about local technology on the blog: venture capital, entrepreneurs, CEOs, the buzz in local companies. Through the blog, I hope I can be more effective in covering news throughout that community, and I hope a lot of people will come to me with their own ideas.

How has the new media impacted the newspaper biz?

The newspaper business has been consumed with panic for the last couple of years. Even when I was in journalism school in college, people were saying “Why would you go into a dying profession?” Some saw blogs and YouTube as the death of traditional print media; I see it as a catalyst for change. We had become so complacent in the newspaper business–we were the best way for advertisers to reach a mass audience.

Yes, that’s changing. But that just means there is more room for newspapers to reinvent themselves. And, in the process, I think we can actually serve readers more effectively by being more creative. The Post is making an aggressive effort to stay in that game, which is part of the reason our technology reporters launched the Post I.T. blog in the first place. Video is becoming a much more important component of stories. And we have an entire team of multimedia experts who create web-exclusive content to complement stories that run in the print edition.

Some reporters have said that they wish we could dial back to the days when the Internet was just starting to take hold, so that newspapers could immediately charge users for access to their content. But that’s not what this business is about–it’s about a conversation in a community. And blogs and video just expand that dialogue.

What’s the worst pitch you’ve received from a PR person?

As a former “PR person” myself (in college, anyway), it’s pretty easy to spot a pitch that has very little merit. You can tell when someone’s reaching for a story angle. My pet peeve is mass emails that are sent out with no regard to what a reporter’s beat is. That’s a sign that a public relations professional hasn’t done their homework: they don’t know who I am, they don’t know what I cover and they have clearly never read a single article that I’ve written. I once got an email that began: Dear Mr. Hart. At least take the time to realize I’m not a man…

Yeah, that’s pretty bad. What tips would you offer PR pros?

Well, I certainly wouldn’t classify myself as a pro at this point, so it’s tough to give advice to people who have been in the media business much longer than I have. I’m definitely still learning.

I think my best relationships with PR people have been built over time. I appreciate it when they understand my deadline pressures and are flexible if things fall through, or if an interview has to change at the last moment, or if a story angle shifts unexpectedly. I think it’s important to keep in mind that we are writing for our readers, not our sources. That will help in determining what types of stories reporters will be interested in.

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