Hackpads are smart collaborative documents. .

Andy Ellis

927 days ago
Unfiled. Edited by Sara M. Watson , Andy Ellis , David Larochelle 927 days ago
Sara W Media Training
May 6
Michelle Deakin, HLS press officer  
Ann Marimow, Washington Post reporter and current Nieman Fellow
Andy E It's not clear that there is a single "right" strategy to handle press.   One big worry many have is being misquoted.
Sara W Most of this applies to the way print/news reporters interview and report on stories with people with expertise in a subject.
Andy E Before
  • If reporter initiates contact:
  • Get as much information as you can
Sara W
  • Name, publication (red flag on freelancers fishing, check if they are on assignment for a publication)
Andy E
  • Use social media to research the reporter, publication. If you can't find anything, ask for more.
  • "Tell me about the story you're working on?"
  • "What have you learned so far?"
  • "What's the story you're envisioning?"
  • Don't respond immediately to a question
  • Is this a good fit for you?
David L
  • Just because you're contacted doesn't mean that you have to be involved with the reporter
Andy E
  • Do you want to be involved in this.
  • How does this align with your goals?
  • How does this align with your organization's goals?
Sara W
  • Refer to other people who might be a better fit to talk to, refer to other sources
Andy E
  • Consider whether you are giving the reporter their name, or the reporter's name to your referree.
Sara W
  • Be mindful of the deadline, respectful of that
  • Figure out what your main point is going to be. Jot it down and type it out, be clear about the main point. Outline your thoughts so you don't stray from what you want to say.
Andy E
  • Write the tweets that you'd like the reporter to quote as a script.
Sara W
  • Example Neil Degrasse Tyson The Big Bang theory: explain it in two sentences.
  • Know your audience publication 
  • is it general audience where you have to simplify your message? talk in more technical detail? 
  • Send things in advance that might guide the conversation (articles, op eds, reports etc)
  • How long is too long? Give paragraphs or pages in legal proceedings, for example
  • General rule of thumb: don't say anything to a reporter that you wouldn't want to see on the front page of the New York Times.
  • Can have conversations on background if you trust their publication/approach or have an established relationship.
  • Have to get the reporter's agreement about being off the record (preferably in writing).
  • Say in plain English what you want (rather than "on background" "non attribution" etc)
  • Expertise sharing relationship: I'm happy to talk with you. When we're done talking I would like to know what you plan to use. Not so much quote review, but a conversation after the fact about what the takeaway is from the conversation. It's in the journalist's interest to make sure something technical or from expertise is important. 
  • Broadcast and live is different: radio, TV. Conversation before hand is the same, but once you are on air, you don't have the protection of print journalism. 
  • Have to have stock answers that are short, to the point, sometimes funny.
  • Demands more rehearsal, practice as well.
  • Title or image that goes with the piece? Review before print? Not often an option. Reporters generally don't write headlines (done by the editor). 
Andy E During
Sara W Tips for talking:
  • Speak slowly. It may sound awkward. They are typing, or taking notes. Give them time.
  • Avoid jargon and overly technical language. If you must, define them.
  • Don't fill in silences. It's not a normal social conversation. Normal social rules don't apply.
  • You can also pause to collect your thoughts. You don't have to rush out an answer. 
  • Don't feel you have to answer every question that they ask. You don't need to offer additional explanation.
  • Do your best to relax, be yourself.
  • Treat reporters like waiters—they are going to be alone in a room with your food, you don't want them to spit in it.
  • Quote review—ask at the end have I made myself clear? Get them to summarize back to you, how you got your point across and how clearly the got it. Gives you an opportunity to refine the message.
  • Write down any question that I wasn't able to get to with my points. I have to figure out what my point is going to be the next time someone asks about it.
  • Spell your name. Give current title, complete affiliation. "Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University." Don't assume they are going to Google it.
  • Have a headshot available that you can send if you are asked.
  • Is "Don't answer the question you were asked, answer the question you wished you were asked" a good strategy?
  • To a reporter who doesn't know the topic, reframe the question and show that you are trying to do that. Be transparent about what you think the question needs to be. "What I think you are asking is this, is that right?"
Andy E
  • Identify if the reporter doesn't have enough knowledge to meaningful use the answer you'd like to give.
Sara W
  • How can you tell if the reporting is asking to affirm an angle, or is trying to figure out the answer? Ask them more follow up questions about what they are looking for, what's the angle, how is the rest of the story developing.
  • Think visually: charts, graphics. Media is more open to doing that now online, in print, etc.
  • Think about how the soundbite is going to get into print—if it's going to go in, here's what I'd prefer it to be. Say it over and over in the same interview—increases the chance that it will get used and used correctly.
  • Be willing to be available to confirm edits, techincal questions from copy editors late at night. And respond/answer your phone!
  • Okay to ask when the story is running.
  • Let go—you are part of a larger story. If you have a bigger message and you want to control it, you should be writing an article or an op ed.
  • If you find an error, think about how wrong it is, and whether it's worth getting corrected. Be nice about getting the correction. Keep the big picture in mind: did the message get across?
  • Start with the reporter. If you don't hear anything or don't get anywhere, write to the editor and copy the reporter.
  • Reporters follow up for feedback for clarification, next step in the story if it's part of the reporter's beat.
  • Follow up with the reporters, tell them if you liked it. Thank a reporter for a good story. It's rare to hear that you did a good job, so that's a way to build the relationship.
Tips on pitching stories and research to reporters?
  • Some of the same rules apply about the audience. 
  • Send up a trial balloon with friends and family. What resonates with them? What hooks people?
  • What's the tweet: boil it down to it's essence. Put forward the short distillation.
Leverage the press office resource that you have!
  • They can ask the questions you don't want to ask, can spin the angle in the right direction.

Contact Support

Please check out our How-to Guide and FAQ first to see if your question is already answered! :)

If you have a feature request, please add it to this pad. Thanks!

Log in