How to Request an Interview With a Reporter
Are you having a problem getting a reporter to cover your event or story? You may think your story is good, and your friends may agree, but sometimes it’s just not that easy to get it into the paper or magazine or other publication you’ve chosen to present it.
There are several things to consider with this sort of thing, including the fact that time is a precious commodity for most reporters. They have to set priorities every day just to get everything done. They’re working on deadline, as a rule, and it can be impossible some days to squeeze even one more story into the lineup.
Here are some reasons you might not get an interview:
1. You’re the only one who thinks your story is interesting.
2. Your event or subject doesn’t fit the overall theme of the paper or the department you contacted.
3. Your approach is not professional, thus, you have no credibility.
4. Your attitude might appear to be arrogant or self-centered.
5. You didn’t do your “homework” and don’t know whom to contact.
6. You didn’t find out if the publication has guidelines, or if you did, you haven’t followed them.
7. Maybe the publication really doesn’t have room for your story… at least, not right away.
Here are some things to consider about each of these points:
1. Everyone thinks their own story is fascinating, but they may be the only one who believes it. Editors who are good at their jobs already know what their readers want. If your story doesn’t fulfill that, you’ll never get printed.
Try this: Find out what kinds of stories the publication prints. Examine past issues for their style of writing and presentation. Try to find ways to make yours a good fit. Or find a publication that is.
2. You might think your upcoming checkers tournament should be on the sports page, but that particular paper may feel it’s a lifestyle story. If you don’t contact the lifestyle editor, your event will be overlooked… or rejected. Don’t count on the sports editor to call over to the lifestyles department to alert them to your amazing story. Most publications work on strict, and often harrowing, deadlines, so it’s not likely anyone is going to pause during the bustle to remember you.
Try this: Again, examine the publication’s layout and how they present their stories. Make note of the authors of stories that fit your category. Send one or two emails complimenting them on their coverage of a specific story. Let them know you are impressed with their writing, their thoroughness, or make note of something specific in the story. Then let them know how you’d be honored to have them handle yours. But don’t let it look like a ruse to get them to notice you. You MUST be sincere, and never, ever, be condescending. (Thou shalt not offer to “let them” do your story.)
3. If you drop in at the editor’s office with a sloppily typed or written page, and you’re wearing jeans and a T-shirt, don’t expect any red carpets. The clerical staff out front will head you off at the pass very quickly.
Try this: If a personal approach is appropriate, dress neatly, be clean, and above all, be polite. Never demand attention (oh, you’ll get it, but not what you wanted), and be considerate. Give your business card to the “screening crew” (the staff at the front desk, if they have one). Ask to see an editor of the correct department, or find out how to make an appointment.
If you have a press release, leave a copy and ask that it be given to the appropriate person or department. Put it into an envelope and “address” it to them, if you can. Then follow up. This will give you a reason to call that person later, to see if they got your press release. Try to build a connection with this person. If you have a mutual friend or acquaintance, it’s OK to play that card, as long as you aren’t blatantly exploiting it.
4. If you display a cocky demeanor, you will immediately be shown the door, in some cases, or at least a cold shoulder in most cases. The reporting staff at most publications are extremely busy and sometimes overwhelmed. They don’t welcome interruptions from someone who acts like a pain in the neck, hawking what could potentially be a boring story.
Try this: Without being arrogant, it’s OK to be confident and outgoing when you approach someone about your story. In fact, it’s more than OK. If you are too withdrawn or easily withered, you will be brushed aside and probably never given any attention, either. So just be friendly, and show that you are cooperative and easy to work with, as well as enthusiastic and knowledgeable about your topic.
5. If you don’t know the publication’s organizational setup, you could be shooting in the dark. Find out who’s in charge of what, then contact the person who is in charge of what you need.
6. Very busy or large publications usually publish or provide writers’ guidelines for unsolicited stories and freelancers. Always request those guidelines, or at least find out how to obtain them. They may be available on a web page. Get them, study them, and comply with them. Even if you are not writing something, these guidelines may provide hints as to what they are looking for, and it will help guide your approach to requesting coverage of your topic.
7. In the end, sometimes one just has to accept that a particular publication does not have room for your story or time to cover your event. These days, many businesses are operating with a short crew, including newspapers and magazines.
Try this: Look around for other venues. You might actually get better coverage from a smaller publication. Find out if there are any new magazines or papers looking for stories. Your chances are much better for greater exposure from smaller or newer publications.
If you do manage to catch the attention of someone at a huge, well-known paper or magazine, don’t count on getting a big story. You might only be lucky to get a tiny paragraph in the back. So don’t underestimate the power of smaller papers or magazines. It’s often better to show up big in a small paper than small in a big one.
Reporters prefer to write their own stories. If you provide them with your version, as in a press release, don’t demand that they print exactly what you have written. It’s a good way to find your press release in the trash. Most well-known, respected publications require that press releases be rewritten, and will never use yours as is. In most cases, the press release is simply a resource that serves as a fact sheet. Also, most press releases are badly done at worst, and not in tune with the publication’s style at best. It would reflect poorly on the publication to print it as received. It’s just considered poor taste to do so.
If you have written something, chances are very good that you are not aware of what is known as “style,” the phrasing and language in use currently. Good reporters use their style books often, even more than a dictionary. Your press release, then, should be brief, crisp, and neatly done. Do not try to create prose; do not try to be clever; don’t worry about style, and do not repeat anything. Most people say the same thing more than twice.
If you are looking to get on television, the guidelines will be similar. Call or write to the station first, inquire as to their procedure for covering stories, ask what kinds of stories they are looking for, and find out if you are able to comply with their standards.
Last but not least, if your story is published or broadcast, be sure to follow up with a thank you note to the reporter. This will keep your name on the “happy list” and will smooth the way to any future events you would like to see covered. Even if the reporter you got has moved on (and they move around quite a lot in this business), you can refer to that person as part of the connection-building you will do with the next reporter when the time comes.