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Lucas: Ever wonder ‘What do reporters really want?’

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EidtPerspLucas-sigI receive a lot of legal news emails. I’m sure many Indiana Lawyer readers can relate. (At minimum you receive the IL daily, correct?)

So, one day, while moving rather rapidly through the emails that had accumulated in my inbox, I came across a headline in “Above the Law” that read: “5 Things Reporters Don’t Want to Hear From You.” I had to read it. The feeling was similar to the one I have when I come across an article by a man explaining what women really want.

I must admit that the authors – Margie Zable Fisher, a public relations firm owner from Florida, and Barbara Rozgonyi, a media consultant from Chicago – made some solid points. It is understandable that lawyers and other business people are sometimes hesitant to answer calls from reporters, and these women explain how to efficiently and effectively make doing so a positive experience for both parties.

The authors detailed five things reporters don’t want and five things they do. Based on my professional experience, I’d edit a few of their suggestions, but every reporter and every experience is unique. Some are common sense, but I considered them worth sharing.

They started with what reporters don’t want to hear.

No. 1: Self-promotion. That is accurate. The reporter would not likely be contacting you if he didn’t consider you credible, and on this day he is seeking your insights and expertise on a particular topic.

No. 2: Apathy or neutral positioning. If you’re not going to “take a stand” while talking with a reporter, the authors say, you may as well not talk with them at all. Their point is that the more opinionated you are, the more likely you are to get quoted. I agree that the better the quote, the more likely it will be used; I disagree with the notion that you shouldn’t have the conversation if you don’t have a firm position. Sometimes, the background information or historical perspective a source can provide is incredibly valuable. Legal issues can be intricate, as lawyers are well aware, and the translation from legalese to layman’s terms that a good lawyer can provide is appreciated by a reporter.

No. 3: Verbose replies. Space is limited. The authors recommend avoiding lengthy answers that have to be edited to a couple of sentences. I’d add: If a long answer is required to feel you’ve adequately addressed a question, the lawyer who can synopsize her thoughts at the conclusion of her answer is much likelier to be quoted.

No. 4: “No comment.” Think long and hard, the authors say, before saying these words. IL reporters understand that legal issues sometimes prevent a lawyer from commenting, but a returned call or email indicating that is the case is always appreciated. Lawyers are cognizant of the value of relationship building, and a response to a reporter will go a long way, even if it is not what he wants to hear, in preserving that relationship for the next time that you may indeed want to talk.

No. 5: “Can I read your article before it’s printed?” Smaller staffs and tighter deadlines prevent media outlets from being able to do this, the authors explain. They are spot on. Today’s deadlines are often minutes, hours if we are lucky, after the reporting on a story is completed. Imagine circulating a legal document you’d spent a week creating to the parties involved and asking for a response from all involved within the hour.

Fisher and Rozgonyi also addressed what reporters do want.

No. 1: Short sound bites. Much of what was said in No. 3 above applies here. The authors recommend that if you know you are going to be talking to a reporter, “make a short list of sound bites – just a sentence or two that sums up the story” in advance. Not a bad idea. Just remember not to come off as too rehearsed. You are being contacted because of your credibility on the topic at hand.

No. 2: Numbers and statistics. Absolutely. Providing data or directing the reporters to a reputable source for data you’ve used in your practice that may support the story is extremely helpful.

No. 3: “Do you need any other sources?” The authors point out that this shows you are willing to help the reporter, not just yourself, which builds credibility. Reporting can be a scavenger hunt, and putting a reporter in touch with another valuable source can significantly save time.

No. 4: “Here’s my cell phone number; call me anytime.” Reporting is deadline driven, pure and simple. If you have a good relationship with a reporter and are comfortable giving her your cell phone number, the likelihood that you’ll be contacted for a quote or interview increases.

No. 5: Thank you. The authors suggest that an individual who is interviewed always follow-up with a thank-you email letting the reporter know that the interview opportunity was appreciated. In it, they say, recap your comments and request, if possible, that links to your site be included. Here’s the thing. We know that lawyers have demanding schedules and we appreciate the time you’ve already taken to talk with us. While a follow-up email is a nice gesture, it is not necessary. Feel confident that an IL reporter will contact you if he or she needs clarification of anything you have said in an interview.

I always appreciate it when a lawyer gives me tips that help navigate covering the law, and I hope that the insights shared here will help you next time you have the opportunity to be interviewed.

If you’d like to read Fisher and Rozgonyi’s complete article, it can be found at www.nfib.com/business-resources/business-resources-item?cmsid=62415.•

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