Tips: Working With The Media

(from Maine Townsman, November 1990)
by Jo Josephson, Assistant Editor

1. Know your obligations under Maine's Right to Know Law: Title 1, MRSA Section 401-410 regarding meeting, executive sessions and documents.

2. Make yourself accessible. Don't drop everything. But return calls promptly. Know and respect reporters' deadlines. Late news makes for greater chances of inaccuracy and unbalanced stories.

3. An uninformed press is a dangerous press. Provide accurate facts and figures. Provide primary sources (grant applications, letters, etc.) as well as summaries.

4. If something "bad" happens, don't cover it up. Put your "spin" on it and designate a spokesman to take it to the press. Don't wait for them to come to you.

5. Know your issues. If you don't know the answer, don't be afraid to say so; that you will find out; that you will get back to them. Don't speculate.

6. Challenge any effort to put words into your mouth.

7. Don't just answer the question; use it as a springboard to "sell" your agenda. But don't overdo it.

8. Be ready with carefully thought-out quotes and anecdotes; reporters are looking for them; they give stories vitality. Assume all your statements are quotable.

9. Make sure the reporter understands the issue. Use simple language. The better the reporter understands it, the better the public will.

10. There is no such thing as "off the record."

11. Avoid the use of "no comment." At least say why you can't respond.

12. Be frank. Be honest. But. Watch your words. Imagine them in print tomorrow.

13. Listen carefully to the questions. The reporter may have incorrect assumptions in the question and you may have to address them before answering the question.

14. Don't ask to see a story before it is published. There is no time and the request smacks of censorship. But do let the reporter know you would welcome follow-up questions and where they can reach you.