interview, preparation, journalists

Journalists: the non-specialists need to be informed

Journalists don’t know as much as you think. At least not every time. People assume we’re experts and that we know loads of stuff. We may have fewer resources than you imagine.

A friend of mine is a composer. He was on Facebook a while ago complaining that a noted contemporary composer had his name pronounced incorrectly on a small radio programme on the BBC. I pointed out that the announcer may have been stuck making his best guess, and my friend said “I imagine there’s a team of researchers for them to consult”.

Laugh, I nearly…

Journalists do their own research

Here’s the big secret: Google has pretty much killed any advantage journalists had in terms of research about an interview into which they’re going “cold”. You can see the effect in a few stories that came up recently in the news.

You’ll recall, perhaps dimly, that before the current news storm about the budget, it was all about Jeremy Corbyn’s tax return and whether he’d declared all of his income. He had not declared a full year as leader of the opposition.

Now, I’m also someone who submits a tax return, as a company director. So I’m well aware of the tax year running April to April and personal returns being due on 31 January, at least until the latest reforms kick in next year. People employed by other people don’t have to concern themselves as much about those deadlines.

So it was perhaps no surprise that the many staff reporters writing up the stories didn’t stop to think that if Corbyn submitted a tax return on 31 January it had to cover the year ended 6 April 2016. And since he wasn’t leader of the opposition for the full 12 months before that, it would actually be factually wrong for him to declare a full year’s income on leader’s pay.

So many of the press didn’t spot this. Likewise, they’re not all specialists in how legislation works. Today’s headlines (like the one in the Daily Mail: “Tory tax retreat after just 24 hours: Theresa May steps in to pause the £2billion Budget blow to the self-employed after a rebellion by furious Tory MPs”) refer to a climbdown by the prime minister. But is it?

The original plan was to increase taxes on the self-employed from April 2018. Instead of debating it now while everyone is furious the PM is now going to have the debate in October, which will allow plenty of time for new rules to be enacted before April, indeed there will be another budget at around the same time.

Remind me: what’s actually changed, other than the presentation?

You can make this an advantage

So, why am I telling you this? The answer, quite straightforwardly, is that you can use it. Journalists may have limited resources. They may not all be specialists in the area in which you work (some will be, never be afraid to get a PR company to find out). We need to sound authoritative when we write, and that’s where you can help.

Yes, you’ll want to push your company’s agenda. Yes, you’ll want to use an interview to publicise your business. You can also use it to brief the journalist on stuff he or she needs to know.

When I started as a tech journalist I wrote a lot about printers (livin’ the dream…). One contact was very helpful: not only did he tell me about his company’s products, he took the trouble to explain exactly how the printer worked and how the contents of the toner drum ended up looking like words and pictures on paper.

Obviously, every time I needed extra comment on the printer market I’d go straight to him. He picked up a lot of extra coverage for his business.

There may be ways you can do the same. Is there something in your announcement that may not be obvious to a non-specialist? Is the publishing professional in front of you really a specialist in your field?

If he or she isn’t, you could be in a position to pick up a hell of a lot of brownie points without even trying.

Do you need help speaking to the media? I can help – fill in the form below and we’ll see what I can do.

One thought on “Journalists: the non-specialists need to be informed”

  1. Just reading Nick Davies Flat Earth News (yes its sat on my shelf for a few years first) & in it, he describes very well the pressure that journalists are under to produce copy. He teamed up with the University of Carlisle and from a research project, showed that national news journalists were producing 3 times the copy they had to produce 20 years ago. means less and less time for checking, learning and sourcing with increasing dependency on PR and wire services.

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