The news media has come under relentless attack lately, particularly by President Trump. Veteran reporters are accustomed to antagonistic relationships with government leaders and other high profile, influential people. Good reporters dig beneath the surface of a story. They sometimes discover things powerful people don’t want the public to know. Whether the public sees it as good journalism or “fake” news, most reporters try to tell a complete, fact based story. Part of their job is to be skeptical, but that doesn’t make them inherently hostile.
If you have an important story to tell about your company or industry, establishing a good relationship with a reporter is crucial. And that requires learning about his or her job. When you know more the type of stories reporters are looking for, how they like to communicate, and some basic journalism ground rules you are more likely to build a good rapport.
Where do you start? First identify the local or regional reporters who cover your industry or the issues that are consequential to your business. Become familiar with the reporters’ work, the stories they typically write or broadcast, and the people they profile or often quote. Then call, introduce yourself, and ask them to meet for coffee or lunch. Explain why you or others at your organization can be good sources or provide story ideas that are most relevant to the reporter’s work.
Becoming friendly with a reporter doesn’t mean you are friends. There are exceptions, but your objective is not to make friends but create a relationship of mutual trust and respect. Here are some tips to consider:
- Agree to interviews or to provide sources of information when the reporter’s story fits your criteria for media exposure. This usually means you will not comment for a story that has negative implications for your organization or industry.
- Always remember you are “on the record” whenever you speak to a reporter.
- Never answer questions on the spur of the moment.
- Be respectful of the reporter’s time and deadlines, but ensure that you have enough time to craft appropriate answers to the questions.
- Get clarity on the full scope of the story.
- Ask more questions if the reporter’s explanation is vague or ambiguous.
- Find out who else the reporter is interviewing. You’ll get a better sense of the story knowing the other sources.
- If it’s for broadcast ask for the name of the person who will interview you. Look for past interviews to become familiar with their interview style.
- Offer to “fact check” a story prior to publication and to verify the accuracy of your quotes.
- After publication or broadcast follow up with the reporter to discuss the story, what kind of feedback it’s received, and how you can work with the reporter in the future.
Reporters can’t be all-knowing and they are being asked to do more than just report. With shrinking newsrooms many of them now shoot photos, video and have social media responsibilities. They need the expertise of others and trusted sources they can count on. It won’t always guarantee a positive story but meeting and learning more about a reporter can lead to more meaningful media exposure for you and your organization.