Recently a friend’s story was featured prominently in a less than accurate and less than flattering article in a business newspaper. The article provides an important opportunity to remind us all of a couple of tips when working with the Fourth Estate. For example:
When a reporter reaches out to you regarding a story, reach back. Ignoring the request does not make the story go away.
In fact, ignoring such a request (as our friend did) guarantees that the reporter will file the story without the benefit of your input which in this case would have corrected factual errors as well as provided the missing and critical context for the article.
A request for an “off-the-record” conversation from a reporter who you don’t have a long standing and trusting relationship with should not be automatically dismissed as our friend did.
Rather, get as much information as you can from the reporter, such as the anticipated story angle, who else she will be interviewing and a good sense of what she already knows.
Then give yourself time to collect your thoughts, including writing down a few anticipated questions from the reporter, your answers to them as well as key points you want to make.
Now here’s the deal: answer the reporter’s questions as if the interview were on-the-record, eliminating the possibility of seeing your off-the-record comments in the article.
The payoffs to this approach? The reporter is given a more complete picture of the situation. She now has information she likely didn’t have before and could get only from someone such as our friend. The reporter also has a new and reliable source for future articles, including updates on his story.
This way, our friend can tell his side of the story to someone who can help get it told to others, using the reporter’s off-the-record invitation to his skillful advantage. Everybody is happy.