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•


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  1. If a class action suit or other manner of retribution is possible, count me in. I have email and voicemail from the man. He colluded with opposing counsel, I am certain. My case was damaged so severely it nearly lost me everything and I am still paying dearly.

  2. There's probably a lot of blame that can be cast around for Indiana Tech's abysmal bar passage rate this last February. The folks who decided that Indiana, a state with roughly 16,000 to 18,000 attorneys, needs a fifth law school need to question the motives that drove their support of this project. Others, who have been "strong supporters" of the law school, should likewise ask themselves why they believe this institution should be supported. Is it because it fills some real need in the state? Or is it, instead, nothing more than a resume builder for those who teach there part-time? And others who make excuses for the students' poor performance, especially those who offer nothing more than conspiracy theories to back up their claims--who are they helping? What evidence do they have to support their posturing? Ultimately, though, like most everything in life, whether one succeeds or fails is entirely within one's own hands. At least one student from Indiana Tech proved this when he/she took and passed the February bar. A second Indiana Tech student proved this when they took the bar in another state and passed. As for the remaining 9 who took the bar and didn't pass (apparently, one of the students successfully appealed his/her original score), it's now up to them (and nobody else) to ensure that they pass on their second attempt. These folks should feel no shame; many currently successful practicing attorneys failed the bar exam on their first try. These same attorneys picked themselves up, dusted themselves off, and got back to the rigorous study needed to ensure they would pass on their second go 'round. This is what the Indiana Tech students who didn't pass the first time need to do. Of course, none of this answers such questions as whether Indiana Tech should be accredited by the ABA, whether the school should keep its doors open, or, most importantly, whether it should have even opened its doors in the first place. Those who promoted the idea of a fifth law school in Indiana need to do a lot of soul-searching regarding their decisions. These same people should never be allowed, again, to have a say about the future of legal education in this state or anywhere else. Indiana already has four law schools. That's probably one more than it really needs. But it's more than enough.

  3. This man Steve Hubbard goes on any online post or forum he can find and tries to push his company. He said court reporters would be obsolete a few years ago, yet here we are. How does he have time to search out every single post about court reporters and even spy in private court reporting forums if his company is so successful???? Dude, get a life. And back to what this post was about, I agree that some national firms cause a huge problem.

  4. rensselaer imdiana is doing same thing to children from the judge to attorney and dfs staff they need to be investigated as well

  5. Sex offenders are victims twice, once when they are molested as kids, and again when they repeat the behavior, you never see money spent on helping them do you. That's why this circle continues