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Making Friends With Reporters

Reporter RelationsBe accessible

We all have meetings and other commitments. If you want to become a regular source for journalists, you MUST be accessible. Train the person who answers your phone to keep a separate log of reporters who call—with names, news outlets, direct phone, fax numbers, e-mail addresses, and deadlines. If you are in a meeting, that should be communicated along with “but I know she’d be eager to talk with you. Can I interrupt her—or can she call back by 3 P.M.? When do you need to hear from her? Can you tell me what you need to know so I can find someone else to help you right now?” Try to rearrange things if you can to avoid saying no the first several times radio or TV producers call.

Be succinct

Don’t ramble. Even print reporters have space constraints. And they can easily take your rambling comments out of context. If words don’t roll off your tongue, keep a sheet of one-liners near your phone. Practice short answers to common questions with a friend—with a stopwatch. Know two or three short, compelling stories that make your case. Then cook them down and practice telling them.

Remember, you need not take a call when it comes

Often, reporters are on tight deadlines. But sometimes, you have plenty of time to prepare and call back. First, have whoever answers your phone find out who’s calling, from which news organization, and if they’re on deadline. If you feel it will help your presentation, ask if you can return the call at a specified time. Then, jot down a few notes based on a few talking points developed in advance and practice. Then, call the journalist back. If you’re really convinced you’re the wrong source, suggest an alternate.

Don't use jargon

Even with the reporter who knows your issues, steer clear of tech talk. It’s stiff, turns off the uninformed, and is less likely to be quoted. Likewise, always spell out acronyms, and don’t assume the friendly reporter you talked to a month ago remembers the buzzwords. Consider starting from square one unless you know and have spoken to the reporter previously. It’s a good habit in any case, and usually generates more lively copy.

Preview one or two upcoming events or issues

Take advantage of any interaction with a journalist and mention a story idea, an upcoming event, or a burning issue. Don’t be shy. You may just stimulate the story of your dreams.

Drop a thank you note

Most reporters hear about their errors. Few get thanked for their accuracy and insight. Journalists have long memories. Especially when you’re competing for scarce space, it helps to drop a note to a reporter who you feel “Gets it”—and his or her boss. You may be pleasantly surprised next time you call with a story idea.

Excerpted from the American Library Association’s A Communications Handbook for Libraries, published in Summer of 2004. To see A Communications Handbook for Libraries in full, please visit: http://www.ala.org/ala/pio/availablepiomat/online_comm_handbook.pdf.

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