Things Not to Say to a Journalist

JournalismAs a journalist, I’m extremely busy each day. I interview people face to face or on the phone, I check in with contacts, I attend meetings, events and photo opportunities, edit my coworkers’ articles, edit pages, I write dozens of inches of content every day, shoot my own photos and video, and I upload all of it to the company website each day. And I try to do it in 8 hours.

Most of the time, I love it. It’s a fun, often exciting job. I’m a people person and I enjoy getting to know the people in the community who make things happen, do wonderful things for others, open businesses and lead cities, counties and organizations.

(Photo by Justin McKee)

(Photo by Justin McKee)

Because working with and around people is a huge part of my career, I often run across people who make comments that are not only thought out before they’re said, but often rude and insulting to myself and to others in my profession. I understand many of these individuals don’t realize what they’re saying can be taken in such a way since they are not journalists, but I can’t imagine those people are as ignorant as they make themselves sound.

Though we’ll never show it, those types of comments will never fail to get our blood boiling. And believe me, we’ll share that comment around the newsroom and all grumble together. It’s hard to believe so many people don’t understand the journalism world or newspaper industry and how it all works.

Here’s a quick overview of some ideas (yes, there are more) of What Not to Say to a Journalist, in no particular order.

“Can you send me the article before it prints? I want to check it over.”
I know you mean well, and I understand why you say this, but for me, it’s incredibly insulting — especially if you’ve interacted with me on other occasions. This tells me you don’t trust me enough to do my job accurately and in good taste. It demeans my position, qualifications and skills. Additionally, can you imagine the chaos if we allowed it? We’d never get anything done because we’d have to add every little detail you think is important that — let’s face reality — really isn’t vital to efficiently telling the story. And we couldn’t trust you to get it back in time. It’d be a disaster. Luckily, most newspapers (if not all), do not allow writers to send you a draft as a policy. Mine doesn’t either, which is the answer you will receive if you ask this of me.
We’re all human, though, and mistakes are made. If I do make a mistake, I can fix it immediately online and even run a correction if you’d prefer. No, we do not and will not re-run articles.

“Did the article run? I don’t get the paper.”
Insert huge eye roll, sigh and facepalm here. This makes me upset just typing about it. Basically, I did you the courtesy of writing about your community event, hobby, fundraiser, etc., and you can’t even bother to pick up a copy of the paper for 75 cents? What’s worse is when someone angrily calls me and says their friend didn’t see the story in the paper, yet when I turn to page 3 it’s there in (literally) black and white. Check for yourself. And why not support my employer by purchasing a print copy or subscription so I can continue to write articles about the thing that’s important to you.

“I called (insert TV news station here) too, but I guess they didn’t show up.”
Oh, no way. The news channel that’s not local but tries to be didn’t attend your event? I hate to break it to you, but guess what: TV news stations likely don’t care about your small-town event unless it’s a slow news day. They care about drama, breaking news, controversies, or whatever will get them ratings. My paper, your hyper-local print and online news source, actually does care, and we want people to care with us. So contact us first. Ninty-nine percent of the time we’ll be there, ready to showcase your story. TV news lasts a few days. Print news lasts forever.

“Sorry this is taking so long, but I’m sure you’re getting well paid for it.”
I’m not sure when it was decided journalists are well off. Was that before my time? Either way, without getting into the wage discussion, just take my advice and don’t say this. Have you seen the recent list of Worst Paying Jobs in America or Dead-End Degrees? I’ll leave it there.

“You’re going to have to FOIA that.”
*Note: FOIA means Freedom of Information Act.
Really? You’re going to make me do more work to get information that’s available for anyone to get their hands on? Do you realize you’re also passing the buck to some poor clerk who already has enough to do? Just take two minutes and save me the trouble. If anything, making me submit a FOIA won’t deter me — it will make me more persistent to uncover what you don’t want out in the public eye.

“By the way, this is off the record.”
You only have permission to say this before an interview starts. NOT after you’ve talked to me for 10 minutes. If you do that, you just wasted our time. Have a good reason for your words to be off the record and be clear about when you’re on the record.

“I don’t believe in advertising in the newspaper.”
I hear this a lot from business owners or individuals hosting large annual events. Oh, you don’t want to advertise in the paper, but you’re okay with getting free publicity with this article I’m doing? Maybe I’ll rethink using you as a source next time I need input for another story or covering your event next year. Make this a two-way street. If you don’t support the paper, there won’t be a paper to display your cause.

“I can’t believe we have to pay to access news on your website!”
This might be the worst. I curse whoever started putting free news content online when the internet was young. They ruined it for everyone. Honestly, I don’t understand why this is so hard for people to accept. Are paywalls annoying or disappointing? Sure. But online content is the same as print content, and you’d have to pay to pick up the paper in a box or at the store. Why should there be a difference? Not only that, how do you think I’m getting paid? If we don’t generate revenue, I lose my job. I lose my job, you have no local news source. Then you’d really have something to complain about.
I could go on and on about this one…but I won’t.

If you’ve been interviewed by a journalist before, I hope you’ve never said some of these comments. If you have…know you’ve made a mistake and just don’t do it next time. If you haven’t been interviewed, learn from this blog post.

To my fellow journalists out there, add your own list in the comment section!

—K

About Karin

Journalist, singer, reader, movie fanatic, photography buff, GVSU alum, wanna-be-Brit, Crohn's fighter, Coca-Cola addict, animal lover, not a kid person, hater of winter, Michigander
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