Having spent a decade working as a television news reporter, I devoted a lot of time working to gain people’s trust. From the CEOs, public relations professionals, and elected officials that I was routinely interviewing, to the viewers who tuned into CBS 11 to get their news, I had a responsibility as a journalist to remain trustworthy, fair and ethical. As the source of the interview, there are things reporters won’t tell you though.
However, I’m well aware that there is a general mistrust of the media. As a reporter, I was constantly on the receiving end of skepticism and suspicion. Every time I picked up the phone to set up a story I could tell my motives were being questioned. When I made the transition into public relations, I heard those all-too-familiar sayings repeated among my colleagues. “You can’t trust the liberal media“, “Reporters will twist everything you say“, “Don’t give any media interviews, they’ll burn you.”
I wish I could say I’ve never been burned by a reporter, but it happens to the best of us. I truly believe though, having been one myself, that most reporters are honest, truthful people who strive to be as transparent as possible.
With that said, there are definitely a few things reporters won’t tell you.
Tips For Working With The Media
- We’re just looking for a soundbite or quote
- We’re not going to tell you every question
- You were a horrible interview
- We don’t want to get into a confrontation
- It just wasn’t news (OK, sometimes we tell you this)
We’re just looking for a soundbite or quote: Reporters have a very limited amount of space or time to tell a story. The average television news report is one minute, ten seconds. So no, they won’t use even a fourth of what you say. This is why you should always think about what you want to say and how you want to say it. Be concise (because of their time constraints) yet creative and interesting in how you word things.
We’re not going to tell you every question: As a reporter, I was probably asked for my questions on a daily by interviewees. “What are you going to ask me?” I always gave a general idea of what the interview would be about, but never a list of questions to expect.
I get it, everyone wants to be prepared prior to a journalist with a camera or audio recorder
showing up at the office. But reporters aren’t going to tell you everything they’re going to ask you. Before you start questioning their motives and intentions, let me first say, they aren’t withholding their questions to be sneaky or make you look foolish. They won’t tell you because they don’t know all of the questions yet. A good interview should feel like a conversation, which means the reporter will listen as you speak and draw questions from there. Sometimes the story angle can even change as the interview is in progress and the reporter gains more information. And speaking of being conversational, that’s another reason they won’t provide a detailed list of questions. They want you to be conversational. They don’t want the scripted answer you practiced 50 times in front of the mirror. They want you to sound and look natural. You aren’t an actor. No matter how much you practice your answer, a scripted response will al ways sound stiff… which brings me to my next point.
You were a horrible interview: You practiced what you were going to say and came across stiff and unnatural. But the reporter will never tell you that. People tend to ask reporters “how’d I do?” following an interview. They want reassurance that they didn’t sound like an idiot. And reporters usually give them that reassurance. Even if they could barely string two sentences together without stumbling, as a reporter, I never told anyone they were a horrible interview. For one, I might have needed them for future stories. Secondly, I’m not a jerk. I would’ve never put someone down who was gracious enough to grant me an interview. Instead, I always politely thanked the person for his time, told him he did great and prayed that by the time I needed to interview him again, he would’ve hire a PR person to provide some serious media coaching.
We don’t want to get into a confrontation: Reporters have a reputation for being ruthless. They’re supposed to be tenacious. They’re supposed to get answers which involves asking tough questions. And sometimes the very job of a journalist requires confrontation. But if I can be real with you, most reporters, even the investigative ones, don’t particularly like it. When they know they are going into a confrontational situation, they get nervous, too. They don’t like to nor do they want to ambush someone. They will usually give you every opportunity possible before ambushing you, so my advice is take the opportunity given and avoid the confrontation.
It just wasn’t news (OK, sometimes we tell you this): Your ribbon cutting, book signing, or major philanthropic donation to XYZ organization isn’t a news story. Sure, it’s news to your investors, customers, and clients, but not to anyone else. That may sound harsh, but media outlets receive dozens (if not hundreds) of press releases a day. Unless it’s visual, impactful and can be personalized, your story will probably not make the cut. This is where a public relations specialist can benefit you. They have spent years building relationships with reporters and producers and can help craft your press release into an actual story that is more likely to get picked up by the media.
So the next time you’re face-to-face with a reporter just keep these five things in mind. Hopefully, you’ll have a better understanding of the person in front of you, and maybe forge a valuable relationship in the process.
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