Q52. Do you have any advice for citizens about how to deal with reporters?

Build a relationship, and become known as a reliable speaker

A52. It’s very useful for citizens to know¬†how the news media works at Province House.

I came away from my fifteen years in politics with a profound respect for reporters, and for the important role they play in maintaining democracy. That doesn’t mean I always agreed with them, or liked what they wrote, but their role is fundamental. They are professionals with standards and ethics who try every day to tell important stories in an engaging way.

For the citizen, the best reason to engage with reporters is because getting in the news will amplify your voice. If you stand on a busy street corner in downtown Halifax and shout “Listen to me!” you might get a dozen random people listening. If you deliver the same message in an interview or newscast on CBC’s Information Morning, you’ll have 100,000 citizens¬†listening.

Here’s the most important thing you need to know: On a typical day at Province House when the legislature is sitting, there are dozens of different things going on. The reporters have to decide which one or two stories matter most to their audience, and then decide how to report those stories, all within their deadlines. They are under no obligation to choose the story you want, nor to report it the way you want.

Here are some other tips about how to engage effectively with reporters:

  1. Become known as a knowledgeable and reliable speaker on a given issue. That way, they will turn to you for comment whenever the issue comes up. It may take time for you to build a reputation, and it may take some practice for you to be able to talk about an issue in a way reporters can use.
  2. Build an ongoing relationship with reporters. Know their names, know who they work for, have a general idea of who their audience is, know how to contact them. Be helpful to them, by sharing information and insights. When the time comes to include you in a story, they’ll know who they’re dealing with.
  3. Try to understand what a reporter’s job is like. The more you know about what they’re trying to accomplish, the better you can figure out how to work within that framework to get your message out. For example, it’s no good to call a TV reporter at 5:00pm. Their news-gathering time is done for the day. Another example: don’t expect a reporter to do an investigative deep-dive on every little thing that bugs you. They don’t always have a lot of resources, and they have to choose carefully how to allocate the resources they do have.
  4. Try to understand what is likely to appeal to a reporter. A story might matter a lot to you, but it may not look so interesting or “doable” to a reporter. Remember that a reporter needs reliable sources and good evidence. The more you can do to supply those things, the more likely the reporter will pick up your story.

 

 

 

 

 

Author: Graham Steele

A former MLA in Nova Scotia, currently Professor of Business Law in the Rowe School of Business at Dalhousie University

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