Journalists weigh in on what to do—and not to do—when working with the news media.
Byline: Leah Spellman Craig
“Stonewalling.” “Taking it personally.” “Slow to respond.” These are some of the obstacles journalists face in their constant sprint to meet deadlines and create attention-grabbing stories before the competition.
While the news industry has changed dramatically through the years, its power and importance remain. An April 2012 report by the Washington, D.C.-based Pew Research Center found that nearly 72 percent of Americans follow local news closely. Businesses need the media to help spread key messages and announcements, and reporters rely on public relations professionals to provide information, arrange interviews and supply story ideas.
So whether you embrace working with the media or cringe at the thought, it pays to be familiar with the fundamentals. Here are some tips:
1. Understand the local angle. No two publications are the same, and not all members of the press can be lumped into one category. Dan Eschenfelder, news editor at GTN News, says his station has the community’s best interest at heart—including local businesses and organizations.
“We are local journalists,” Eschenfelder says. “We do not have a bias. We are concerned, interested and enjoy the same things as you. We find worthy experts who offer answers, solutions and advice so people can better arm themselves with information.”
2.Respond quickly. Newspapers, magazines, online outlets, radio stations and TV stations all have varying deadlines. With this in mind, it is important to respond to reporters in a timely fashion—even if that means simply acknowledging you received their request and are working on formulating a response or coordinating the requested interview. When an opportunity presents itself, failure to respond in a timely fashion may mean missing out on free, positive coverage.
“It is frustrating when we leave a message and the business doesn’t get back to us until late in the afternoon or says they can’t meet until 4pm,” says Andrea Clenney, news director at WCJB TV20. “We are working on deadline. Our first afternoon newscast is at 5:30pm.”
3. Be available. Once you have worked with the reporter and have offered the information you can provide, it is important to remain accessible. Reporters may need to coordinate photography, get additional information or clarify details.
“Let the reporter know you’re available for any clarifications or fact-checking after the interview,” suggests Alina Dizik, a freelance journalist who has written for numerous national publications, including The Wall Street Journal. “This can help prevent mistakes.”
4. Avoid saying “no comment.” Local news outlets often cover positive stories, but when a crisis occurs or an investigation is underway, it is important to have a strategy in place to respond to your key audiences.
“Our biggest frustration when contacting a business regarding a story that is negative is what we perceive as ‘stonewalling,’” says Clenney of WCJB TV20. “Refusing to talk on camera gives the viewer the impression that you have something to hide. A business is far better off talking to us or making a statement than not.”
5. Have realistic expectations. Asking to review a story in advance or approve a quote may seem reasonable, but Dizik says in the news world, it’s taboo. “Most likely, it’s not allowed. It is against the editorial policies for most publications and would actually get the reporter in trouble.”
Mutual respect and taking time to build a relationship with reporters is key. How you respond to a media request today can greatly impact how you and your business is perceived and how your company is reflected in tomorrow’s headlines.
Leah Spellman Craig, corporate communications specialist at RTI Biologics, in Alachua, Fla., has five years of public relations experience and has worked with reporters from numerous local and national media outlets, including USA Today, The Wall Street Journal and CNN. She is communications director for the Gainesville Chapter of the Florida Public Relations Association.