Helpful hints for working with hungry reporters
OK kids, today we’re going to have a little talk about … journalism! Don’t bother to sharpen your pencils because it’s not going to be about grammar or the inverted pyramid of who, what, where, when and why. No, this discussion is going to, hopefully, provide some helpful hints to those who deal with their local media.I’m calling it “How Not to Irritate Your Local Media.”First off, we must understand how the media operates – which, in this instance, is the print version. Basically, we interview you – either in person or on the phone – we write down what you say and then put together a story that ends up in the newspaper. We do all this for very little money, which is why we can also sometimes be seen scrounging through Dumpsters looking for food.For the most part, our sources and the public in general are very helpful and often even go out of their way to provide us with information or give us a heads-up about a story. We appreciate this and strive to be as accurate and timely as a person can be while trying to get out of a Dumpster.But here are a few little hints for you that will help us, the news media, do our jobs more effectively:• When we call, don’t talk to us for 20 minutes and then say that, by the way, the whole conversation is “off the record.” We have now just completely wasted our time.
• “Don’t use my name.” Apparently, you are related to the person we talked to for 20 minutes that just said the conversation was off the record. You must understand that we have to attribute the information to SOMEONE so it doesn’t look like we just made it up. Although, come to think of it, if we were allowed to make stuff up, it would probably make for some interesting reading.• “Don’t make me sound stupid.” We can’t make you sound stupid – only you can do that. If you say something stupid, we simply write it down.• In the same vein, don’t call us when the piece runs to say you didn’t realize we were doing a story. There are several clues that should alert you to the fact that you are being interviewed for a news story. A) We identified ourselves as a reporter. B) We asked you detailed questions about a news issue. C) We don’t know you personally and have never before called you just to “chat.” Why do you THINK we’re calling?• Then there are folks who don’t return a phone call until a week after the story has run. By this time, we don’t remember your name or why we even called.• It’s a newspaper article, not a book. Thanks for the pages and pages of information and the numerous additional phone calls, but we only have limited space.• Don’t play hard ball when the information we are seeking is clearly public record. Yes, we can go to town hall or the court house and get it, but if you happen to know the answer to the question, why not just save all of us the time and energy?
• If you are a government official, let’s hold the executive session at town or city council meetings at the end instead of the middle! Otherwise, we and everyone else in the audience, have to go out and stand in the hallway for 45 minutes or more.• Photos. We try to get photos to illustrate our stories and we generally like to have people in them. But these are not intended to be glamour shots, folks. They are supposed to be realistic. We will not take out your double chin, whiten your teeth, remove your mole, cover the gray in your hair and reduce or enlarge your bust. Still, we can guarantee that your photo will look better than the mug shot you might get at the local county jail.• Speaking of which, if you happen to be incarcerated, please don’t keep calling us collect at the newsroom. “You have a collect call from an inmate at the Garfield … County … Jail …” is generally not the return phone call we are waiting for.But probably the biggest thing that frustrates us is this question:”Can I read your story before it goes to print?”WHAT?
That’s like asking a bank teller, “Can I watch you count the money that I just deposited?” Or at the grocery store, “Can I stand behind you while you weigh my vegetables to make sure you entered the right code?” Or at the mechanic’s, “Can I go under the car with you while you change my oil?”Absolutely not. You are professionals and so are we. Let’s all play nicely together and assume everyone knows how to do their jobs.These are just a few hints you might consider when interacting with your local media. They don’t apply to everyone, but you know who you are.My followup discussion, “How to Bribe Your Local Media,” consists of just three words.”Give us food.”Heidi Rice is a staff reporter for the Post Independent. Her column runs every Friday. Visit her Web site at http://www.heidirice.com.
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