Walk a Mile in the Reporter’s Shoes

A few weeks ago I wrote about the concept of “Media Training in Stages”—an approach that supports the view that an effective professional development program involves more than a one-off workshop.

Today we examine the second stage: Gaining familiarity with the media.

Getting Acquainted

The more your media training workshop uncovers the rigors of a reporter’s job, the better the chance your interview will prove successful. Once you forge a cordial, professional relationship, the reporter will learn that you are a trusted source who can give him the reliable information and concise quotes he needs.

News Daily

As a former reporter, I realize that a walk through a journalist’s mind can be a scary proposition. Still, let’s take a quick tour.

A reporter’s thought process dictates that you cut right to the chase. Reporters want your headline first, then your lead paragraph, then the rich filling of examples, numbers, third party support, and so forth. This style of communication is the polar opposite of our everyday conversations, so it is important to adjust your mindset.

Consider this viewpoint as you construct your message, too, ensuring that it makes sense for the reporter and the public. Take a tip from this former reporter—journalists don’t care when your organization was established or how long it took your project to come to fruition. They want the grabber first.

You can also help reporters by taking into account the obstacles they face and helping them overcome them whenever appropriate:

  • Unforgiving pressures to get the story first.
  • Multiple assignments, often working on diverse stories simultaneously.
  • Competitive pressures from other newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations, and blogs.
  • Negative attitudes of some sources.
  • Professional pride and status; they want to impress their editors, news directors, and peers.
  • Gruff and demanding editors.
  • Headline writers who may never read their entire article.

Most news sources never stop to think about how they can facilitate matters from the reporter’s point of view. You gain an advantage when you do so.

Tricks of the Reporter’s Trade

Even if you prove helpful, it is naïve to suggest there is not another side to the story. Reporters thrive on conflict. That is what sells newspapers and garners TV ratings points.

Journalists have ways of trying to elicit information you may not want to cough up. Here are some of the tricks you need to recognize:

  • Planting words in your mouth
  • Rapid fire questions
  • Interruption
  • Hostile
  • Friendly
  • Paraphrase
  • Hypotheticals
  • Pause

Different reporters use different methods. The point is, by staying on the alert you minimize your odds of uttering a quote that will come back to haunt you.

Rights and Responsibilities

You have certain rights when you deal with the press. Among them:

  • Right to know the subject of the interview.
  • Right to set time limits.
  • Right to ask clarifying questions.
  • Right to ask who else the reporter is interviewing.
  • Right to record the interview for your records.

As with any relationship, with rights come responsibilities. You owe reporters the following as part and parcel of your exchange:

  • Be honest
  • Say you don’t know rather than guess at an answer
  • Respond in a timely manner
  • Learn about the reporter and the media outlet for which she works
  • Maintain a sense of professionalism at all times
  • Keep these obligations in mind before you agree to any media interview

Ground Rules

Unless your duties dictate that you deal with reporters daily, you should always stay on the record. This means that the reporter can use anything involved in your business deal—the words you say, the materials you give her, even the gestures you make. Leave the complex negotiations about going off the record or on background to your communications pros. For more detail, see my research report, Can We Talk Off the Record? Resolving Disagreements, Increasing Understanding Between Reporters and Public Relations Practitioners.

Tune in again next time when we cover the third stage of media training, the value of simulated exercises.



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