What Reporters Really Want

There is hardly anything more intimidating than a reporter standing in front of you, arm outstretched with a microphone two inches from your mouth, a camera pointed in your direction and a bright light shining in your eyes. The perspiration is forming on your brow, your mouth is starting to dry and you’re sure the reporter can hear your heart beating. Let’s face it: Any intelligent, coherent person could become a rambling nervous wreck.

As a television news reporter for nearly 20 years, I never really heard anyone’s heart beating, but I saw a lot of sweating, stammering and rambling. Contrary to the popular belief that most reporters are out to get you, I often felt sorry for these people. Often they had no one to turn to for help. More importantly, they knew their subject so well, but due to the pressure of the moment, could not effectively communicate their message. 

Interviews should be an opportunity to share, educate and inform. Reporters want information. They want you to help them tell your story. They want facts and they want honest answers. Understanding how the media works and what the different media need, is your first step to becoming media savvy.

A reporter’s job is to break down very complex issues into informative short stories that audiences can relate to and understand.  Television reporters need pictures to go with their stories and sometimes the availability of those pictures dictates how the story is written.

So why not maximize your effectiveness?  Spend a few minutes learning how reporters think and what they need, so you can work with them. There are no guarantees. But knowledge and understanding are powerful tools.

Informed Interviewees
Reporters want factual, accurate and reliable information. Don’t talk if you don’t know the subject. Instead, get the right answers or find the right person to provide those answers.

Direct Concise Sound Bites
Keep your answers focused and to the point. State your main point first and then back it up with an explanation. Reporters always welcome history and background to help them understand the story, but there is limited time to include all of those details in a short interview.

Know Their Needs
Television needs visuals. Radio needs interviews. Think in those terms. If you are talking to a reporter about a tractor in the field, conduct the interview in front of that tractor where they can see it, rather than in an office, where they can only imagine it. If you’re holding a news conference or event, make sure the media has room to take pictures. Provide a malt box for microphones, set an agenda and limit the number of spokespeople.

Reporters are observers. If you want a reporter to do a story about your company, make your facility and employees available to that reporter. Know what the reporter needs and set it up ahead of time.

What is news today isn’t always news tomorrow. Reporters usually need information five minutes ago. Be sensitive to the reporter’s deadline and try to accommodate them.

Know Where to Look
Look at the person who is talking to you. If you’re not sure where to look, please ask.

Speak Their Language
Don’t talk technical. Don’t use big words. Speak simply and conversationally. If the reporter can’t understand you, they can’t explain it to the reader.

Truth Talks
Try to provide as much information as possible without breaching security or confidentiality issues. You want to stay in front of the information so you are delivering it and not responding to what others have heard. If you don’t have an answer, simply say so, but offer to provide updates as information becomes available.

What Does it Mean to me?
Reporters keep the reader or viewer in mind. What do they care about? To give your message meaning, try to put yourself in the viewer’s shoes. Instead of spouting facts and data, offer examples that are relevant and meaningful to the reporters’ audience.

Don’t Produce the Story
Try to refrain from telling the reporter how to do their job. You can provide information to guide the reporter, but ultimately, they will write the story. The reporter does not work for you.
The reporter is a liaison between the public and you. If the reporter doesn’t completely understand what you’re saying, they will not clearly convey your message. So, the next time you find a microphone just inches from your face, remember: You’re the expert. Reporters want your help no matter how loudly your heart is beating.

This article was written by Karen Friedman, one of the leading communications coaches in today's business world.  Frequently quoted by publications such as the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, she recently released Speaking of Success which she co-authored with best-selling author Stephen R. Covey (Seven Habits of Highly Effective People). She can be reached at 610-292-9780 or at www.karenfriedman.com