It used to be a big deal as lawyer to get a call from a local reporter. Heck, it still is so long as you’re not the subject being covered.

What’s changed is how you get those calls. Historically, some firms hired public relations people to get the names of their lawyers out there, some firms put together story kits packaging a story and sources for reporters and some, like I did as a trial lawyer, held press conferences to which reporters were invited.

Today the Internet, and particularly social media, has changed everything. A lawyer can build relationships with key reporters by networking with them online. Blogging, Twitter, and Facebook all represent avenues of engagement.

Not only will a reporter get to know you as a real person, but they’ll come to know you as a ‘go-to’ lawyer in your niche. The flip side is that you get to know the reporters, their interests, and their needs.

One set of influencers you ought to be building relationships with are the reporters and editors of your metro business journal. For most of you this means your local business newspaper owned by American City Business Journals (ACBJ).

ACBJ is the nation’s premier print and digital publisher of local business news. ACBJ has 40 business newspapers and sites in cities such as Seattle, Washington, Austin, and Albany. There’s a good chance their newspaper is sitting in your conference room.

ACBJ has a ton of reach: 3.6 million print readers, 10 million unique visitors a month to their sites, and 225,907 attendees to their conferences and events.

Their audience is a perfect demographic for lawyers and law firms: 66 percent are in top management at their companies, average net worth of more than $1.68 million, household income of $227,000, and 85% have college degrees.

I had exchanges with three reporters this morning after tweeting their stories earlier in the morning. Each of the stories were relevant to what I do and of interest to my followers.

In each tweet I shared the essence of the story, added a comment, and attributed the story to the reporter. By doing so the reporter gets notified of my Tweet and sees my take. Each of the reporters responded, one of whom I had a longer exchange with.

Two of the reporters were with ACBJ business journals, one in Memphis and one in Buffalo.

I picked up the stories by following relevant keywords and key phrases via Google Alerts. The stories are then fed to my RSS reader on my iPad (Mr. Reader) where the content from all the blogs and mainstream media I subscribe to are fed to me. I shared the stories directly from Mr. Reader with my comments and attribution.

You are nuts as a lawyer not to be engaging influencers like those from ACBJ. Reporters love the exposure you give to their stories. As a lawyer and law firm you have a lot of trusted followers.

It can be fun to engage these folks. They are often as new to social media as you are. There are no rules of proper etiquette. You’ll not embarrass yourself by being yourself.

Reporters for ACBJ publications are particularly good to network with online. Each has their email and Twitter in their byline for easy engagement. They are local. You can meet them for coffee, be a local resource for stories they’re working on, be quoted and, in time, become a guest columnist.

It’s a win-win for both of you. Reporters are leveraging social media for both exposure and to grow their network so as to do a better job of reporting. You’re growing your influence as a trusted and reliable authority in the locale in which you practice.