A Reporter Calls: Part 1

  • First things first: Get the full name of the reporter and get his or her phone number and e-mail address. Make sure you identify the news outlet.
  • Be friendly and respectful. Don’t convey a tone that indicates defensiveness, anger or guilt.
  • Ask: What’s your deadline? What’s the story about? Don’t hesitate to probe if the initial answer is vague. What prompted your interest in this story? Have you interviewed others for the story or do you plan to do so? Who? Have you covered community association issues before?
  • Once you have a sense of the particulars, especially if you think this could be a difficult interview, tell the reporter you will call him or her back—even if that’s in 10 minutes. Take whatever time you have to gather your thoughts, anticipate questions, collect information, talk to others, and develop a few basic message points. Have your key points in front of you when you call the reporter back.
  • Be sure to get the person most qualified to address this particular topic. Don’t hesitate to ask an “expert” to join you, e.g., an attorney for legal issues or your accountant for financial questions.
  • Make sure the reporter knows whether you’re speaking for yourself, on behalf of the association or the board or some other entity.
  • Never lie or mislead, and don’t try to answer a question for which you don’t know the answer. Don’t be afraid to say you don’t know the answer, and don’t speculate. Offer to try to find the answer and promise to get back to the reporter.
  • If you think you’ve misstated something, don’t hesitate to say so and clarify the point.
  • Don’t assume the reporter knows anything. For instance, reporters who haven’t covered associations may not know that board members are elected by their fellow homeowners.
  • Not matter how knowledgeable the reporter seems to be, speak slowly in short and concise sentences. Remember, the reporter is taking notes and will write the story based on those notes. Also remember that you’re really talking to the reader or listener. Avoid industry jargon.
  • Don’t get sidetracked or ramble. Answer each question, convey the points you need to make and stop. Some reporters will use the discomfort of silence to keep you talking.
  • Without being evasive, use the reporter’s questions to “bridge” to the messages you need to convey. Don’t hesitate to restate your key points.
  • As a general rule, do not go “off the record,” and definitely don’t do so unless you know and trust the reporter. If you feel the need to do so, always ask if that’s acceptable and make sure the reporter acknowledges that before you divulge that information. State when you’re back on the record.
  • Send an email to the reporter following the interview, restating your key points and providing other background information that reinforces your key points.

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