If the pen is mightier than the sword, it’s a good idea to keep journalists onside.
Knowing how to keep journalists happy is a very useful skill for any business owner.
But Alex Wake, a lecturer in the RMIT school of media and communication, says many small businesses simply don’t know how to handle the media.
They make common mistakes born of ignorance or anxiety that often earn the ire of journalists, she says.
Wake lists 10 things that annoy journos and editors.
Avoid them and you may have a successful working relationship with someone in the newsroom.
1. Repeatedly asking when a story will be published
Do not ring a journalist constantly asking for publication dates and details.
One Fairfax editor says this is her top annoyance.
“We don’t know,” she says. “It depends on what news is happening on any given day . . . I must get this 10 times a day and it just wastes my time.”
To stop yourself from badgering journalists, set up a Google Alert so you are immediately informed when your article has been published.
2. Confusing editorial with advertising
Requesting information to be published that makes a business look good is a huge no-no.
This often happens because businesses don’t understand how the media works and they see a phone call from a journalist as an opportunity for a free plug.
3. Asking to see copy before it’s published
An ethical journalist will never show you an article before it’s published.
Doing so would create pressure on the journalist to change the story to flatter someone, hide unpleasant truths or help push someone’s agenda.
4. No news sense
You may think you know news, but don’t try telling that to a journalist.
Journalists have a sharp news sense and understand what their readers, listeners or viewers want to know about. News is topical and often involves conflicting opinions and values. Journalists understand this and don’t appreciate being told how to do their job.
5. Time wasting
When a journalist approaches a business for a comment, some people dilly-dally about getting back to them with an answer.
Their organisation doesn’t have any processes in place for dealing with the media and that’s really frustrating for journalists, especially if the comment is not for a hard-hitting investigative piece.
Often journalists are seeking a balancing opinion for their articles and need quotes from “both sides of the fence”.
For example, they may speak to a florist about what’s on offer on Mother’s Day and need to balance that with quotes from another source criticizing the commercialism of the day.
6. Disrespecting objectivity
Sometimes businesses don’t understand that a journalist’s role is to report impartially. Developing a good relationship with a journalist means accepting the good with the bad.
Today a journalist may seek your comments on a feel-good story but it doesn’t mean they will spare you the awkward questions about a negative issue next week.
7. Boring photos
Red-tape cutting, cheque handovers, turning the first sod. Boring!
Don’t expect photographers to be interested in “photo opportunities” that have been carefully constructed to push a corporate or government barrow.
Journalists don’t mind you phoning them before deadline to fix any errors you may have contributed to in their story. In fact, they will thank you.
But retracting statements – particularly ones that are not controversial – drives them batty! Before picking up the phone to withdraw a comment, consider whether your vanity is taking over and if it’s really that important.
9. Empty promises
Don’t make a promise to get back to a journo with information and then never do it.
Journalists work against hard and fast deadlines, often with little time to arrange new sources of information if someone lets them down. No one is obliged to give interviews, but if you do, then follow through.
10. Headline complaints
Many people are unaware reporters don’t write headlines, captions or have a pivotal role in the placement of an article.
These jobs are commonly performed by subeditors who carefully edit articles for any inaccuracies, make decisions about article and image layout and craft headlines and captions.
Headlines are restricted by space but have to encapsulate the gist of a story. Of course, headlines cannot summarize entire articles and writing them takes great skill.
Unless the headline is grossly unfair, don’t complain about its witty take on an article or that it doesn’t tell both sides of the story. After all, the detail is in the article itself.