Tips for what to do if a journalist contacts you for an interview

Design blog Design*Sponge recently posted an article, written by a journalist, about what small business owners can expect from when contacted by the press.

I found the author's take on this to be a pretty accurate look at how I interview sources and write a subsequent story. A few tips for potential sources really resonated with me:

  • "If you’ve never talked to a reporter, you might feel anxious; most of the public assumes reporters are all using secret recording devices or hoping to catch you in a lie. We are not all like that . . . in fact, I’ve only known a few real-life journalists who seemed prone to writing tabloid-style articles."

     

  • "If you like to make jokes, make jokes, but remember that anything said in an interview is fair game UNLESS you precede the joke by saying, “Off the record.” It’s very annoying to have someone say later that they never thought their comments would go in the story; unless the reporter has agreed not to publish something, it’s considered part of the interview. Personally, I try to use my best judgment and be as fair as possible."
     
  • "If you do want to respond but just don’t want to be interviewed, shoot the reporter an email that says, “I’m not comfortable with being interviewed, but here’s another source who could help you.”

These tips are great, and really represent my point of view. I've been interviewed by other publications and media outlets, and I know it can be a nerve-wracking experience. You feel vulnerable. However, it's never my intention to make a source look bad. I want to tell a story that's truthful and accurate, as well as interesting to my readers. Plus, I work in small town. Reporters who have a history of misquoting people or otherwise writing unfair articles get reputations. It's in my best interest to tell the stories I write as fairly as possible.

Anyhow, this piece is so well done that I wanted to share.

- Meg Dickinson

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mankind wrote on June 07, 2011 at 2:06 pm

An interesting and little-heard debate I've heard of that relates to this is the practice of newspapers never allowing sources to review a story before it goes to print. That policy makes sense if the source is the mayor or a political figure but it makes little sense if the subject is, say, someone who designed a really neat patio or the owner of a new chocolate shop, or a veteran who returned from Afghanistan. I think newspapers could curb a lot of the animosity directed toward them, and relieve a lot of anxiety people have about appearing in the paper, if they allow sources on certain stories to review what's going to appear for factual accuracy. The worst a source can do is say, "I didn't say that," which, for one thing, shouldn't faze the writer if she has the notes or recording to back herself up, and, for another thing, provides an opportunity to get an issue clarified before the article goes to print. Sources would appreciate the chance to protect themselves. Will newspapers ever do it? For convenience's sake, probably not.