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What Does a Reporter Want?

Good public relations is predicated on the understanding that a reporter is a human beings, with needs, desires, and above all, a job to do. By understanding the limits that journalists’ schedules and formats impose upon them, we can significantly increase the chances that coverage of our issues will be balanced and complete, and of developing rewarding relationships with the journalists we come in contact with.

In order to gain a better understanding of the forces that shape a reporter’s reaction to us, and how best to communicate with them, HotLink took a few moments to interview Elisa Kukla, a Toronto area freelancer whose beat covers both local and national news, as well as cultural events.

The Sources Hot Link: What constitutes an interview that will gain good coverage?

Elisa Kukla: Someone who speaks clearly and to the point and has a large knowledge base, but is able to communicate it in lay terms. Someone who has a unique angle on their story, rather than "just the facts." Human interest is always important.

HL : What do interviewees and sources do that inhibit your ability to cover their issue?

EK: Using a lot of jargon, making it difficult to reach them, being unwilling to provide follow-up information, taking the "party-line" on an issue, can all cause a story to be cut. An interviewee who answers a reporter’s questions with "yes", "no" and "maybe" is unlikely to find themselves on the front page.

HL : People dealing with the media often have the perception that the journalist is trying to "trip them up". How would you respond to this?

EK: All I’m looking for is the most interesting and informative angle. That means that if I’m dealing with a politician who doesn’t want to be as honest and open as possible, I am definitely trying to get the truth. But overall, I’m looking for an interesting angle, not a scandalous one. I find people often trip themselves up by saying things without thinking through the full implications of their statements, especially taken out of context. Not answering questions directly also makes a source look bad, without any effort on the journalist’s part. However any reputable journalist should be willing to read your quotes back to you on demand. If they are unwilling to do so, speak to their editor. That way you can avoid misquotations.

HL :What is the most important thing about the reporter’s job that you would like to communicate to the people and organizations you contact.

EK: A journalist is always on a deadline. If you want to communicate your issue most effectively, send fax or E-mail background. Take the fax or E-mail of the reporter interviewing you and send along any additional information you may have forgotten - within the hour. If you put off getting back to a journalist for a day… your story may very well be cut or shelved.