How to Make Reporters Really Mad
I once read in Parade magazine that the nicest people on earth are broadcast journalists. The expert probably had his reasons for thinking we are so polite, but I sure have seen my colleagues get mad. And I have simmered in anger myself. Usually our rage stems from getting scooped or missing a deadline or experiencing equipment failure. But as cool as reporters try to appear on TV, there are steps newsmakers can take to light our fuses. The point is, though, you don’t really want to make the media mad, right? While keeping reporters happy does not guarantee positive coverage, it can’t hurt. Reporters are human and most will respond to genuine, friendly behavior… most of the time.
But when a reporter double-crosses you, misquotes you or generally ruins your life with his or her story, here are ways to retaliate.
Accuse them of being biased. Reporters hate this, because they really do stake their reputations on accuracy, truth and fairness. When I speak to groups about working effectively with the media, a common question is: “How come reporters are all knee-jerk liberals?” My first thought is, “Oh, pul-eeez, come up with something more original.” But I would never say that (maybe we are polite). I usually murmur something about the Radio and Television News Directors Association’s Code of Ethics or talk about the First Amendment. It’s in vogue to bash the media, but from the days of Journalism 101, reporters are drilled about objectivity. Conflict of interest, stereotyping and closed minds are the stuff of lead stories, not the way we work.
Pester them on deadline. Pestering is defined as calling more than once or calling for any reason other than to answer a question or make a clarification. After the reporter conducts an interview with you, her next most important task is to find the other elements of the story and write all this by deadline. A reporter cannot miss deadlines. Unnecessary calls or visits can hamper meeting deadlines. Or, they can at least make a reporter so nervous about missing a deadline that she may equate you with trouble.
Grant their biggest competitor an exclusive interview. Journalists are human. That means they’re competitive. They like to win. Winning in news means having the story first. Newsmakers who ignore certain media outlets can count on ruffled feathers. However, I do advise you not to grant interviews to reporters whose work appears slipshod, inaccurate or sensational.
Ask to see the story beforehand. This implies you do not trust the journalist. Reporters will take offense. There’s also a Bill of Rights issue. The Supreme Court has ruled that the chief purpose of the First Amendment is to prevent prior restraints on journalists. If you’re concerned about being misquoted, take along a small tape player and record your interview.
Don’t return calls. Or only agree to talk when the story is positive. Failing to return messages implies guilt, laziness or both. Calling after the deadline is almost as bad. Most news writers aren’t “out to get you,” they just want your side of the story so their report will be balanced. Often, stating your position can avert negative public perception.
One caution: just by avoiding reporters’ wrath doesn’t mean you have developed a friendship. Journalists are never off the clock. If you give a reporter a juicy tip, don’t expect to then say, “Off the record!” and be off the hook. At that time, a relationship doesn’t count—a reporter feels like he is called by a higher power to right the wrongs of society… or at least, get the lead story.
Did I say that reporters are human?
Copyright 2001. All rights reserved. Lorri Allen works with people who want to look smart on television and groups that want to use the media effectively. For more information about Lorri’s speaking and consulting services, or for permission to re-print this article, please contact her firstname.lastname@example.org or call the numbers below.