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Posted on 11.29.2011

Working with Reporters: What to Expect

If there’s one thing I learned about reporters in my time as a journalist, it’s that every single one of them is different. In temperament, in style, in their receptiveness to being pitched by PR pros – every reporter is unique. That means you may encounter a few surprises from time to time when working with newsroom staffers. (I recall one former colleague who insisted loudly on speaking to the CEO every time she called a company for a comment, no matter how small the story.) Fortunately, there are some things that vary little from scribe to scribe. Being aware of these general truths can help you prepare for your next reporter encounter. • Reporters want a live interview. Whether it’s in-person or over the phone, whether it lasts an hour or less than five minutes – reporters want to talk one-on-one with the individuals who are part of their story. An interview assures the reporter he or she will have the highest likelihood of understanding the topic at hand, having the opportunity to ask follow-up questions, and eliciting some quote-worthy material. From the reporter’s perspective, it’s the quickest and easiest way for them to gather the information they want so they can advance their story. They don’t really want to submit their questions in advance – they find it time consuming and argue that it’s impossible to anticipate what questions will crop up in conversation. And emailed responses to their questions in lieu of an interview are liked least of all. When I was on the other side of the fence, I dreaded the often sterilized language and regurgitated boilerplate that tended to show up in those answers – if I was even lucky enough for the answers to address the heart of the question. That’s not to say some emailed Qs and As can’t get the job done. But don’t be surprised if you get some grumbling or push-back if you ask for it. • There is no guarantee you’ll make it into the story. In fact, there’s no guarantee the story will appear at all. Reporters and editors make decisions about news coverage every day based on a variety of factors that, from time to time, result in the shortening or death of stories both good and bad. In addition, reporters decide which sources they will quote, which sources they will paraphrase, and which ones they will leave out of the story completely based on what makes for the best story. Of course you can ask the reporter to let you know if you or your client will be in the story and when it will run, but it’s good practice not to expect to see your name in print until you actually see it. • Reporters don’t share your point of view. As a PR pro representing a client, or as a company handling its own media, you have an agenda – you’re probably looking for positive, prominent coverage. After all, that’s your job. But keep in mind, reporters don’t share your agenda. Their job is to break news and write compelling stories. Sometimes that means, despite what you thought was a stellar interview, your name doesn’t appear until the last paragraph. It can mean that your client, who provides services from A to Z, is quoted only in reference to service A. • Reporters have questions about press releases. You should expect that a release about any newsworthy topic will elicit additional questions from the media. That’s why contact information (for someone who can be available to the media) is always included on a press release. Be prepared to field those questions, particularly if the release excludes a pertinent piece of information – like the transaction price of an acquisition or the expected completion date of a construction project. • They’re not going to “run the release.” Please don’t call a reporter and ask them if they’re going to run your release. Even if the media outlet uses your press release as the basis for a two sentence brief, they should be putting those two sentences into their own words and cutting out any language that’s clearly meant for SEO purposes, as well as hyperlinks.

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