Want to be interviewed by the media? Learn from these writers’ gripes

Twitter was alive last week with crabby writers complaining about people they wanted to interview. This information can be valuable to those who want to build good relationships with reporters and therefore get publicity for themselves or their businesses.

It turns out that what sounds reasonable and time-saving to you does not serve the needs of the writer trying to please an editor. Keep that in mind or risk never getting another chance to appear in that publication.

The twitter conversation came together with the hashtag #sourcefromhellin5words. Linda Formichelli, co-founder of The Renegade Writer and UsefulWritingCourses.com, asked writers to share five-word phrases that drive them crazy during an interview. I picked it up from a column written by Maria Perez for ProfNet.

Here are some of the annoying ways people respond when reporters ask them for comment, along with my observations.

“Can I review before publishing?” (@joyfc); “I must approve final draft.” (@write4income)

When you talk to a reporter, it’s not the same as ordering an article from your own publicist. News organizations won’t let you approve the article (although some bloggers might). You have the right to ask before the interview what topics will be discussed and to question the direction and tone of the article. If you think a question is unfair (before or during the interview), say so. By the end of the interview, you will have a good, general idea of what the article will say.

“Oh, don’t use my name.” (@seanfdriscoll); It’s all off the record.” (@lisarab); “Don’t quote me on that.” (@Steph_Steinberg); “Hey don’t use this, but…” (@josephcurrency)

Don’t suggest going off the record. Leave negotiations with reporters to your professional publicist. Even if you are trying to be helpful, the reporter will think you are trying to hide something. You risk angering the reporter by demanding to go off the record or to give information on background. Especially for a one-off interview, you don’t have the relationship to know whether you can work with the writer in that way.

“Just quote from my book.” (@gwenmoran); “Read Chapter 7 of my book.” (@urbanmusewriter);“It’s all on my website.” (@anngol)

Reporters are calling you for original information, for a pithy quote, for a new twist. They might present new information or ask you a question that causes you to think of things in a fresh way. Even if they don’t, they need a new quote from you for tomorrow’s article. Help them out.


Paul Steinmetz is the director of Community Relations and Public Affairs at Western Connecticut State University. He is also the principal of Writing Associates, offering writing services to businesses, organizations and individuals.


About Paul

I grew up in Marin County, California, and moved to Connecticut to join The News-Times, a community newspaper in Danbury where I eventually served as editor for 10 years. I joined Western Connecticut State University and ran the PR and development offices. I now serve as director of community relations and public affairs. I have four kids, all with the same wife, and now run Writing Associates, a consulting service that makes writing easier for my clients.