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The Media Clinic - When the Journalist Calls

Summary of approach

  • Establish who they are and why they are calling. If in doubt, check them out with their organisations and call them back. Note contact information.

  • Ask yourself what’s in it for me? What’s in it for us? How sensitive are you to exposure? How much control do you feel you need? Andy Warhol on press coverage: “Don’t pay attention to what they write about you. Just measure it in inches.”

  • Ask yourself: will your information be helpful or harmful to your organisation? Could you be divulging price sensitive information that needs to be disclosed to the Stock Exchange first?

  • How will your comments be understood by stakeholders in your organisation: employers, customers, suppliers, shareholders and your boss?

  • Establish the ground rules of the conversation. If you say you are speaking “off the record” do you know what it means? Do not say something followed by “don’t quote me on that.” If an agreement has not been secured that a conversation is background information, not for attribution, journalists (under their own code of conduct) are entitled to quote you.

  • If you are speaking with the promised protection of anonymity, find out what that promise means. Can you be sure that the journalist will not divulge your name to a third party under any circumstances? Would your comments or your information be so specialist that they would reveal your identity?

  • If you are speaking on the telephone assume that your conversation is being tape-recorded from the moment you answer the phone.

  • Is the journalist on a tight deadline? Can you respond quickly and accurately with the comment or information they need? Are you informed enough to be having the conversation? Can you buy yourself any preparation time by calling the journalist back? Can you set up a meeting? Try to become as informed as possible about the nature of the article.

  • If you have a point to make, make sure you make it and that it is understood by the journalist. If in doubt ask the journalist to read it back to you.

  • Before you slam the phone down, remember, a good news story may be worth its weight in gold for you and your organisation. Check out the advertising rates.

  • When dealing with journalists you are engaged in a transactional relationship just as you are when speaking with a client. Try to extend to them the same courtesies as you would a client even if they are not always reciprocated. Keep the moral high ground.

See also: Some views on the media

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