by Anne Krueger
Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District
El Cajon, CA
I recently got some questions from a reporter about a recent hire at one of our colleges. Although we knew we’d done nothing wrong, we fretted about the tone of the questions and feared we were facing a negative story. Some wanted to put off responding to the reporter.
We promptly answered the reporter’s questions, and I called him the next day to check in. He told me our answers cleared up the false information he’d gotten, and he was no longer planning to write a story. I breathed a sigh of relief.
We learned a valuable lesson as a result of that experience, one I try to emphasize based on my decades on the other side of the news-gathering fence as a newspaper reporter. Most reporters aren’t out to get you – they’re just trying to do their job. Give them good information and most will try to tell your story fairly and accurately, or, as in our case, decide that there’s no story after all.
Here are some more tips about dealing with reporters that Cheryl Broom, my colleague at MiraCosta College, and I put together for a presentation we made at the NCMPR national conference last March.
Find out who the reporters are on your beat. Find out their interests and what kind of stories they like to write. Get to know them and invite them to tour your campus and meet your CEO.
Personal relationships are important. You’re more likely to get coverage for your press releases if reporters know and like you. Friend them on Facebook. Compliment them on their stories.
Give the reporter your cell phone number as well as your work number. You’d much rather get a call on the weekend than have bad information published.
Return reporters’ phone calls or emails quickly. If you don’t know the answer to their question, let them know you’re trying to get the information.
Ask for deadlines when a reporter calls or emails. (The answer will usually be: NOW!)
Don’t just promise, deliver. If you say you will get names and phone numbers, get them and get them by the time you said you would.
Avoid acronyms when talking to reporters. They don’t know what FTES or CEWT means. Talk to reporters in language that a viewer or reader would understand.
Keep a list of professors or staff members who have special expertise and would be available to comment for a breaking news story.
Send press releases just before Thanksgiving or Christmas. Reporters are desperate for stories during the holidays, and they’ll love one that they can do quickly.
Think visually. What would make a great television story or photograph?
Be careful about going off the record or on background when talking to a reporter. It’s almost always a bad idea.
Don’t ask reporters if you can read their story before it’s published or broadcast. Instead, ask if they are willing to review the facts of the story with you.
Let reporters know when they’ve done a good story. A quick message thanking them will go a long way the next time you deal with them.
Decide whether to ask for a correction when a reporter makes an error. For a minor error, just notify the reporter so it’s not repeated in future stories. Let the reporter know if you are insisting on a correction. If it’s important to get a correction, keep moving up the news organization chain of command until you get a response.
Anne Krueger is the communications and public information director for the Grossmont-Cuyamaca Community College District in El Cajon, California. Before joining the college district in 2010, she worked as a newspaper reporter for more than 30 years.