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Act Now to Strengthen Relationships with Journalists

To enhance the quality of coverage you earn, you can make efforts to build credibility and trust with journalists. A good reputation among journalists is earned through consistently offering an interesting point of view, having a great deal of energy and enthusiasm and being accessible. These attributes can help you establish yourself as an expert source, resulting in increasing numbers of phone calls asking your opinion about breaking news.

Here are tips to improve your dealings with journalists.

Leave your prejudices about reporters behind. Reporters -- like everyone else -- bring their life experiences and perspectives to their jobs. Good reporters make every effort to see all participants'' points of view and to be aware of their own biases. Even if you''ve had negative experiences with the media in the past, you should avoid questioning a reporter''s motivations. Asking a journalist, "What is your point of view?" or "Whose side are you taking?" could undermine your credibility with the reporter.

Be accessible. Reporters often face severe deadlines. It''s not uncommon to be assigned to a story and asked to research and write something within a couple hours. You should establish a strict policy on calls from journalists to ensure that reporters are never left hanging. Such a policy may make clear:

  • Your staff should ask the journalist the exact deadline time;
  • You should be interrupted if a journalist calls -- no matter what;
  • If unreachable, a particular person is designated to speak in your place; and
  • If nobody can make a comment, the journalist should be called as quickly as possible to see if the interview can be delayed.

Know your purpose. Every interview should be considered an opportunity to reach your target audience with your message. The message may be implicit, "Don''t I look like I''m an expert?" or it may be explicit, "Our company has listened to the views of neighbors and we''re taking action." Your goal should be to get your message in print or on the air.

Light a fire. If you don''t have something interesting or unique to say, and you can''t build up much excitement about an interview, you may want to think twice about the opportunity. Journalists like conflict and they''ll gravitate toward sources who will provide a spark. If you''re not feeling completely "up," take a brisk walk around the block and/or slurp down some caffeine.

Avoid digging your own grave. As a general rule, you should answer only the question asked, avoid volunteering information beyond the specific question and never speculate.

Here are other, specific dos and don''ts:

  • Speak in simple, declarative sentences, and speak s-l-o-w-l-y.
  • Keep it simple and avoid jargon.
  • Repeat the questions if you need a moment to collect your thoughts.
  • Remember that only a snippet will be used, so condense your comments into short sound bites.
  • If you don''t know the answer to a question, and there is enough time, tell the reporter you will find out and get back to her or him. Or suggest somebody who does know the answer, and provide a phone number.
  • Be ready to provide a quick education. While you are intimately familiar with your subject, it''s possibly brand-new to the reporter.
  • Get a clear picture of the reporter''s needs. A journalist may be interested in a high-level briefing. Or the reporter may be up against a tight deadline and need only a few confirming quotes before filing the story.

Accept it as your responsibility to enhance the quality of media coverage you earn. The simple steps above will be a great start toward improving your relationship with journalists.

Dan Keeney
(832) 467-2904
(832) 467-2909
Author: Dan Keeney
Phone: (832) 467-2904
Fax: (832) 467-2909
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