10 Reporter Pet Peeves: What NOT to do when working with the press

Forging good relationships with the press and generating worthwhile content are cornerstones of a solid media relations program. Knowing how to best build and preserve media relationships is key to getting your story idea heard; but knowing what NOT to do when working with a member of the media is just as important. Here are a few reporter pet peeves:

1. You don’t know what the reporter covers or whom they are writing for. This is probably reporters’ biggest pet peeve, and there’s no excuse for it given the Internet. Go to the publication website and search for stories the reporter has written. You will see a pattern in the topics or trends they have written about; this is called their “beat,” and the vast majority of reporters have one (unless they are a general assignment reporter). Once you find out which reporter’s beat aligns with your story idea or your company’s industry or geography, you won’t waste the wrong reporter’s time (or yours) with your pitch.

2. Don’t oversell or over promote your company or products. A reporter’s job is to tell a story, share news or impart a lesson. They want to know what you know.  Their job is NOT to sell your product or promote stock in your company. Other marketing tactics such as advertising or sponsored/paid social media campaigns allow for a more promotional sell.

3. Don’t ever leave a reporter’s call or email unanswered. That is a surefire way to get kicked out of their source files. If you can’t talk to them when they reach out, ask what their deadline is, get their callback information and return the call in time for their deadline or find someone who can.  When in doubt, contact your PR department or agency, who will know exactly how to handle the reporter’s inquiry. 

4. Don’t go off the record AFTER you say something. Stipulate what you are asking for in terms of anonymity BEFORE you start to discuss the substance of the interview. Truthfully, most people don’t even know what “going off the record” really means, so here’s a simple rule: If you don’t want to see it in print the next day, read it online or hear it on the radio, don’t say it.  However, there are times when going off the record with a reporter can go a long way toward building a relationship with them. Going off the record means that you’re giving a journalist valuable background for their story that they cannot attribute to you in any way.  Ideally, in traditional journalism circles, “off the record” means that the journalist cannot use the quote or material you provide, even anonymously. Ultimately, it is about asking for assurance that you won’t be quoted or mentioned by name anywhere in the copy.

5. Don’t cc the editor if the reporter has made a mistake. You are not going to get them “in trouble.”  Instead, the editor will just forward your note to the reporter and ask them to deal with it, and you will tick off the reporter in the process.  We are all adults here -- if the reporter has made a mistake, just politely point out their error and ask them directly for a correction if possible. 

6. Don’t pitch a story about something they just wrote about.  Obviously you are not going to be able to check what every reporter has written about recently before you issue a news release. However, if you are pitching a feature story or a bylined article, it is worth taking a few minutes to search the publication website to see if they have already covered this topic in a recent issue.

7. Don’t use generic greetings like “Dear Sir or Madam,” but don’t be overly familiar either.  Think how you would feel if you got an email like that.

8. Don’t leave typos in your pitch (this goes without saying).

9. Don’t try to tell the whole story in your pitch or have your release go past 2.5 pages.  Both vehicles are intended to pique interest in your story idea or company news. Ultimately, pitches and releases that are too long and don’t get to the point soon enough just get deleted or tossed.

10. Don’t ask to see the story before it publishes. That’s a sure sign of an amateur.  Some reporters may actually offer to send you your quote for an accuracy check, but please don’t take liberties when they do ask you for a fact check to editorialize what they wrote.

How are your relationships with reporters?  If you need help with your approach to working with the media, we can help. Just get in touch with us at nina@ninadietrich.com.