Tuesday, January 12, 2010

12 questions to ask reporters

It doesn't matter who called whom first. If you are the interview subject, you can ask any of these 12 questions of reporters to help you figure out how best to answer their questions. The bonus: Starting with question one, you'll establish yourself as a smart source, one worth calling again.

1. “Are you on deadline?” Make this your first question, whether you call or have been called. Reporters always appreciate a deadline-sensitive caller, and you'll stand out from the rest of their callers. Better yet, it lets you know how much time you have to respond, even if it's only the next 10 minutes.

2. “When is your deadline?” Essential fact to know, and adhere to. Responding late means missing your chance to contribute.

3. “What are you looking for from me/us?” In addition to your message, what's on the reporter's mind? The answer to this question will tell you the story's direction and what the reporter is hoping you can provide, whether it's background or a comment.

4. “Who else have you talked to?” Learn the context that other sources will provide, so you can better understand your role in supplying information. Be ready to suggest authoritative sources who agree and disagree with you.

5. “Is there a news event driving this?” The answer will tell you about the story's urgency, and angle. Is is a feature, analysis, or news?

6. “Is there another time we can talk? I’m right in the middle of something at the moment.” Most reporters' initial calls are simply to secure time to talk to you. You don't actually need to start answering questions right away, and may give a better interview if you have some preparation time. So take that opportunity, even if it's only 5 minutes.

7. “Do you need to call me during the work day (or later) in your time zone?” Be a thoughtful source who pays attention to time zones when you get calls from far-flung reporters.

8. “What’s the best time to reach you?” Don't make assumptions about reporters' schedules. Deadlines now occur hourly or sooner, and multiple times throughout the day. It's best to ask to find out this particular reporter's schedule.

9. “When do you hope this will appear?” A savvy question. Reporters aren't in control of when stories appear, but may have some sense of what to expect in terms of publication.

10. “Why don’t you ask me…?” If you've got a particularly relevant fact that the reporter hasn't probed and you haven't offered -- or, if you can only offer that fact if asked -- this is a great question that rarely fails to result in the question you want to answer. Just make sure you don't waste it on something obvious, gratuitous or trivial.

11. "What are you taking away from this?" Don't wait to read your words or suggestions in the published copy. Before you finish the interview, ask this question to learn what the reporter heard and the sense she has of your contributions. If you do it before you finish the interview, you can send the reporter off with the right take-away lesson.

12. "Where will this appear?" These days, no reporter is an island, and most are putting stories together to run in many formats. So ask this question, knowing that some stories will appear in many formats--video, audio, web and print--but sometimes, only in one format. You want to know which ones, and which will appear when--again, the reporter may not know the latter, but should have a good idea of the former.

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1 comment:

Corinne said...

“Why don’t you ask me…?”

When I interviewed people for stories my last question was always "Is there anything I haven't asked you that you'd like me to know or to be sure our readers know?" I never wanted a source to wonder why I didn't ask about X.