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From a Journalist’s Perspective: How to Develop/Maintain Relationships with Journalists

Posted At: January 1, 2008 10:10 AM
by Alexandra Weaver and Megan Fraizer

They want information to be accurate, delivered in a timely manner and provided in a simple format. Who are they? They are journalists. For public relations professionals, journalists are key to getting the message out to important audiences. Media coverage can increase the public’s awareness of an organization’s culture. On the other hand, journalists can be a public relations practitioner’s fear, as it is sometimes hard to understand what the media wants to distribute and what the public wants to hear. We interviewed Dr. Bill Keller, journalism professor at The University of Alabama, and Deborah Lane, executive director of public relations at The University of Alabama, to get perspectives from both sides of the relationship. Here are Dr. Keller’s responses.

What is the most effective way to pitch a story to a journalist? Why?

BK: First, make sure that the story is something that you think they would be interested in; you should know what they tend to use. You shouldn’t be pitching things to them all the time. Be the intermediary between the journalist and the people in your company. Journalists would rather talk to the experts.
How do you “think like a journalist”?

BK: The best thing you can do as a public relations practitioner is to have been a newspaper person or a television person at one time. You have to study what each particular newspaper or television station uses and you have to make sure that what you are giving them is interesting to the whole public.

How could a PR practitioner damage a relationship with a journalist?

BK: Don’t throw out a whole bunch of stories that are not newsworthy. The worst thing you can do is to say something that is exaggerated or untrue. If you find out you have said something untrue, immediately call that person up and apologize because you want them to get accurate information. You should never get angry with a new person and tell them. Never try to seek revenge; learn to deal with it. They are just trying to do their job. Also, make sure to meet their deadlines as best you can.

What are important tactics to remember when developing relationships between a journalist and a PR practitioner?

BK: Don’t offer stuff of value like a condo for the weekend. Make sure you are meeting their deadlines. Try to meet them outside the newsroom in an informal setting. Get involved in things they are involved in such as press association conventions. There are local places where news people hang out. Find out where they are and go there and meet some people. Make sure they have your cell phone number and can get in touch with you whenever they need you. Jump when they say jump. If you are always asking them to put stuff in their paper, you need to make sure that you give them what they need when they need it.

Is it important to rehearse the delivery of your message before speaking to a journalist?

BK: If you don’t know the journalist well enough, then you should probably think things through, but I wouldn’t actually rehearse. Make sure you honor what you say. If you tell one publication that you will get the story to them first, make sure you honor that.

Is there a checklist you go through before or after an interview with a journalist?

 Not exactly a checklist. It is always good to call a newsperson before you send them something. Then, send them the information. When they call you, be prepared to answer their questions. If you can’t answer all of their questions, find out what their deadline is and make sure you get back to them. If the person does a really good job on the story, call them and let them know you thought it was a good story. But do not thank them because that sounds like they did you a favor. They don’t want to be perceived as doing you a favor.

What are some standard methods of preparation you use before interviews with the press?

If you are not prepared for the question, ask the journalist to give you five minutes to get your thoughts together. Check your notes or call someone to get the information you need, and then get back to them.

How do you make sure the information presented to a journalist is newsworthy?

 Look at it from the point of view as an average person and ask yourself if this is important news. Don’t just look at the primary big media; there may be smaller media in the area that would find it interesting. Also, work with your company or client to make sure they understand what is newsworthy.

What are some good tips for checking out sources to be certain they are reliable?

BK: You have to get to know the people in your company well enough to be able to tell. You have to tactfully ask your own internal sources to make sure you understand so that you can translate it to where the average person can understand it. Sometimes, it is based on your own instinct or research.

How do you avoid the reply “no comment” to a question from a journalist?

BK: Say something more specific such as “this case is in litigation and we can’t talk about cases while they are in court” or “this is under investigation right now and we will issue a full report once the investigation is through.”

What is your strategy when dealing with a journalist who calls when you aren’t prepared or if they are calling to cover bad news about your organization?

Ask them to give you a few minutes to see what you can find out and get back to them as soon as you find out.

How do you handle a situation in which you feel a journalist has misrepresented you?

BK: Remember that sometimes it can simply be a misunderstanding. If it is really a problem, then ask to have a correction printed. If it is something small, just tell them to put the correct information in their file for future reference. If you think a particular journalist is after you, the best thing to do is kill them with kindness. Don’t get mad.

Q: If you could give one piece of advice to future PR practitioners, what would it be? Why?

Don’t be afraid to get to know people and find out what they want and when they want it. Call the news office and let them know who you are and tell them you want to know who they are and find out a good time to go down and meet them. Try to meet journalists informally. Don’t waste their time by giving them stories that are not newsworthy.

If you would like to get the answers from Ms. Lane’s prespective click here.
Do you have any tips for building and keeping relationships with the
media? Or would you like to share any personal experiences you have had
with the media?

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