Thursday, April 7, 2011

10 Things You Should Never Say to a Reporter

I spent about a decade as a journalist. As much as social media allows for companies to tell their story their way, news media are still a powerful and credible pathway to get your story out to a broad audience. There are a lot of lists that tell people what to say to a reporter. I thought I would add my list of ten things you should never say to a reporter.

10) “This really isn’t newsworthy.” Not your call. Do you want a reporter telling you how to run your business? I'm guessing no. Offer  context so the reporter understands the story. Do it well and the reporter might decide that there is no story. But the decision regarding newsworthiness is the reporter’s, not yours.

9) “That last part was off the record.” People usually say this when they make a mistake or reveal too much during an interview. Off the record works only if both source and reporter agree ahead of time that a topic is off the record.

8) “Can you call me tomorrow?” Calling back tomorrow is usually not an option. Reporters are expected to report a story today. Add the speed at which business moves these days, and what’s to say tomorrow will be any more convenient than today? Plus, reporters may feel like you are blowing them off when you say that. What happens when a reporter agrees to call you tomorrow? They call someone else today and do the story. You're just not a part of it.

7) “You’re not going to interview me on camera, are you?” Most people ask this question because they uncomfortable on camera and fear they will look bad. A bit of advanced media training ahead can do wonders for people’s confidence. Get some.

6) “Why are you covering this story?” A derivative of number 10, this always piqued my curiosity when I was reporting. Why was the source trying to dissuade me from covering the story? You have a simple decision: to be part of the story or not. If the answer is yes, then plan what you want to say.

5) “That’s a dumb question.” To a reporter, there is no such a thing. There are dumb answers. Take every question as a chance to deliver your message and you will do better with the reporter and more importantly, your audience.

4) “I just told you that.” Reporters will often ask the same question several times in a number of ways. They are doing this to see if the answer changes. Make sure your answer the last time you answer a repetitive question is the same as it was the first time.

3) “Are you going to use my name?”  Probably. Unnamed sources, while common in political stories, are less so in business stories. Reporters talk to you because they need your expertise and information. Why would you talk to a reporter if you don't want your name used? Reporters need a very compelling reason to use your information, but not your name.

2) “I don’t really watch your station (or read your paper).” That may be the case, but do your customers read the paper or watch the station? I never understood why anyone would say that to me. I never much cared if someone watched my station. I had a job to do and by telling me this you just told me that you're going to make my job harder. Whether you watch, read or listen should be irrelevant to your decision to engage with media.

1) “No comment.” Sadly, decades after "no comment" became interchageable with "guilty as charged" people still say it. If you can't answer the question, tell the reporter why.

Bill Salvin

No comments:

Post a Comment