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Help a reporter out: 6 tips for working with the media

Alice Lipowicz reports on a survey of journalists who say that federal agencies almost always restrict access to agency officials for interviews.

An agency's public affairs department can be either a blessing or a curse for a journalist, sometimes a bit of each. The release of the survey provides an opportunity to offer some tips for public affairs officers who want to help get their agency's message out. (Sometimes the PAO's job is to try to prevent reporters from getting access or information; the tips below won't be of much help in those cases.)

* Make officials available as quickly as possible. Reporters work on deadlines, and if you can line up an interview appointment two days after the deadline passes, it does no good.

* While monitoring the interview, let the interviewee answer the questions. Speak up if the interviewee misspeaks, or to fill in data that the interviewee doesn't have at his fingertips, but otherwise sit back and let the agency official do most of the talking.

* Respond quickly if a reporter needs a few facts for an article, or to clarify something said in an earlier interview. Again, time is usually a factor, especially for reporters writing for an online news site or daily newspaper.

* Don't ask to see an article before publication. Most reputable media outlets won't allow this, but most reporters will be happy to discuss specific points where you might be concerned about a misunderstanding.

* Be pro-active about promoting positive news, including offering officials for interviews. The media is often accused of never covering the good news, but that is in part because people don't let us know when there is good news. We're not mind-readers. Well, not most of us.

* A reporter's relationship to the organizations on which he or she reports can sometimes be adversarial. Our job is to inform the public, not necessarily to make a particular agency look good. But most reporters are responsible professionals who aren't interested in sensationalizing the news. We appreciate candor, and we need responsiveness, and we try to report fairly and accurately. A good public affairs officer can play a pivotal role in making that possible.

Posted by Michael Hardy on Mar 14, 2012 at 12:18 PM

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Reader comments

Thu, Mar 15, 2012

As an avid reader and listener of the news from many sources for over 35 years as well as being in contact with people from groups being reported on, I can tell you that the typical journalist has no problem twisting what is really going on to either sensationalize the news or to add their personal bias to the point that their reports to the public are just a shadow of the truth. Often they show no respect to those they report on. Until the so-called journalists develop a strong sense of honesty and other morals for their profession, I do not see a strong need to cooperate with most of them.

Thu, Mar 15, 2012

You need to survey the public affairs specialists on the crap journalists pull. -- Seen it from both sides now.

Wed, Mar 14, 2012

You should really consider spending a few weeks in the role of a public affairs officer. For an unbiased perspective. It may change your opinion on "most reporters are responsible professionals who aren't interested in sensationalizing the news."

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