Making A Difference
Working with Print MediaNewpapers or Magazines
Newspaper and magazine reporters are constantly "on deadline" and may
be working on more than one story at a time. Depending on the publication
and the type of article, reporters may have a few hours, a day or even
a week to research and complete their stories.
Your local reporters will probably fall into the "short deadline" category.
Your job is to help them meet their deadlines by being available when
they need to interview you and by providing them with as much clear, factual
and concise background information as possible.
Because articles for magazines and newspaper feature sections require
more research than straight "news" stories, feature deadlines are usually
longer than those for the general news sections of daily papers. The nature
of the story will determine the type of interview situation you may encounter.
Types of Interviews
A news story is generally
short and is written about something happening "now." A news story may
be about a health fair that is happening tomorrow and runs on the evening
news or in the daily newspaper the night before and the day of the event.
A news reporter is on the tightest deadline and may have only a few hours
to research, interview and write a story. Even if the assignment was made
days earlier, reporters usually wait until the last minute, are always
"on deadline" and seldom have much leeway.
Contact with these reporters is typically by phone. You can be most effective
with news reporters if you have all of your information at hand and if
your answers are short and to-the-point.
A feature story is
generally longer than a news story and is written about a topic that is
of "human interest." A feature story also is not tied to a specific time
frame, like a news story, and can run anytime and be of interest to readers.
A feature story about medical librarians might focus on how cancer patients
rely on the Web to keep current on treatment options and stay in touch
with patient support groups.
Newspaper feature sections work on longer deadlines than news sections,
yet there will still be a certain urgency to an interview.
The story resulting from your interview may not appear for several days
or weeks. But like their news counterparts, feature writers frequently
let a story go until the deadline pressure is on. Newspaper feature interviews
are frequently conducted face-to-face.
The feature writer will look for as much anecdotal information, examples
and short descriptive stories as possible. They may want to talk with
one or more of your clients. If you think about the feature stories in
your local newspaper, you know a feature story is built around personalities,
good quotes, human interest, interesting anecdotes, unusual information
and solid facts. Like all reporters, the feature writer is not likely
to be an expert on your subject and will look to you for information.
You should look at it as an opportunity to be an information resource
and help develop the story with the reporter.
Magazines have long
lead times and work many monthsup to a yearin advance. The
interview you give today may not see print for several months. However,
the resultsstories that reach thousands or millions of peoplecan
be well worth the wait.
Magazine interviews generally last an hour or more and are in-depth in
nature. The magazine is usually looking for a comprehensive article that
covers all facets of the topic. The word "usually" is the key, however.
Do not be taken aback by a magazine interview that is short and seems
superficial. The reporter may have most of the necessary information on
hand and may only be looking for expert confirmation or a few quotes to
finish the piece.
Tips and Tactics
Keeping these types of interviews and deadlines in mind, here are
a few overall tips to follow when you are being interviewed by print media:
- Know ahead of time the two or three short and memorable main messages
you want to get across and rehearse saying them out loud.
- Be prepared. Have all facts, figures and references at hand.
- Anticipate key questions and have answers ready. Know the WHO, WHAT,
WHEN, WHERE, and WHY of your subject area, news or story before the
- Answer questions concisely and in non-technical, easy-to-understand
terms. Make points quickly, clearly, sharply and briefly. This drives
the main points home while keeping the issues clear.
- Don't be long-winded or go off on tangents. The last thing you want
is for the reporter to be confused about your main message. Your message
should be obvious if you stick to the point during an interview.
- Use concrete, not abstract, words. Be specific. When possible, cite
statistics rather than using generalities such as "lots of" and "many."
The use of "real life" stories and examples to illustrate a point are
helpful in the interview.
- Provide as much appropriate written background information as possible.
Frequently, reporters will request such information in advance of the
interview for use in researching the topic they plan to discuss with
you. This is especially important with the print media. Reporters often
rely heavily on background materials to compose a story.
- Try to be available for interviews on a face-to-face basis, rather
than over the telephone. Personal contact is the preferred method of
- If you are asked for information or opinions in an area in which you
do not have sufficient experience or expertise, direct the reporter
to a more appropriate source of information.
- If you promise a reporter additional printed information, or names
and phone numbers of other sources, follow up immediately by telephone,
mail or fax.
- When you have related all pertinent information, end the interview.
What to Avoid
In addition to the above, your interview will go more smoothly and
your topic will be more readily accepted if you avoid certain pitfalls.
Be aware of these "don'ts:"
- Don't be a salesman. Your job is to answer questions with well thought-out
answers substantiated by facts. A friendly but business-like approach
is best with the media.
- If you don't have the answer to a question, don't bluff. Tell the
reporter you do not have the information at hand, but offer, if you
can, to supply it by telephone or mail.
- Don't try to stall a reporter. If there is a question that ethics
or confidentiality prohibits your answering, say, "I'm sorry. I'm not
in a position to comment at this time," and then state the reasons
- Don't give misleading information under any circumstances.
- Don't say anything that may be interpreted as an attempt to coerce,
influence or control the content of the article. Avoid requesting approval
of the story before it runs, or asking reporters what they will do with
the information. Offer to make yourself available after the interview,
should the reporter have additional questions.
- Avoid criticizing reporters' writing styles or the way they have handled
a given topic. If they ask you to check facts in the material they have
prepared, do just that and nothing more.
- Don't say anything you do not want published. There is no such thing
as "off the record." A reporter can always attribute your comments to
"a source close to the subject." Anything you say in an interview situation
is fair game.
- Don't speak "off the top of your head." If reporters question you
in a controversial manner or wants complex information, offer to provide
them with written background information from your files. This reduces
the margin of error that is common when a general assignment reporter
attempts to translate complicated information from interview notes into
a general feature.
If the background information from your files is complex, draft a cover
letter summarizing the information in easy-to-understand terms. After
mailing the information, call the reporter to see if you can be of further
Stories that have a "visual" element have an increased chance of being
covered because the public loves pictures that tell a story.
It is important when you contact media with news or feature story ideas
that you consider the photos or visuals that can help illustrate your
story and describe them in your media or photo alert, or in your pitch
letters to media.
If you will have a medical librarian visiting a community group, photographers
or TV cameramen can visualize that story. If you will be giving a library
tour to a school group, photographers or TV cameramen can visualize that