Clear Comm Consulting

Why Do Reporters Take So Long to Talk to You, Then Use One Sentence?

May 30, 2012

Edition Number 86 

Those reporters are just jerks right? They spend time talking to you, and then use a single sentence in the article or just one sound bite in a TV story! Why do they do that? It’s so maddening!

Well, not surprisingly, I have the answer for you – and understanding the answer will make you much better in dealing with the media.

First, it is important to understand that the reporter needs lots of information and background to write a single story. They have to understand the moving parts as clearly as possible and talking to you and others involved with a story helps them understand those moving parts. When they are talking to you it is not just for this one story, but to understand the related issues better – because they may have to write another story on this tomorrow, or next week, or a month from now. So, all that time you spend with a reporter is helping them understand your world better, for this story and potentially for years to come.

A good reporter is naturally curious and they look at each story as a chance to become the newsroom expert on a certain area or topic. The more they understand the outside world, the more valuable they are to the news organization where they work. Their bosses expect them to come back prepared to answer almost any question about this story, so they are also a little paranoid about leaving a story with a question unasked. (They know they may hear about it when they get back to the newsroom!)

Finally, while they may talk to you for 10 or 15 minutes or a half hour, they are also ALWAYS listening for a quote or sound bite that summarizes or gets to the heart of the story. Even better if you can say something unexpected or offer up some wisdom with a twist. THAT is what ends up in the final story – that engaging, compelling quote which grabs the reader or viewer’s attention. In the end, it is not just about you and the story, but also about engaging the news consumer so they will keep reading that newspaper or web site or watching that TV newscast.

A great example of the dynamic I am talking about can be understood by looking at the case of San Antonio Spurs star Tim Duncan. For years Duncan has been an amazingly consistent NBA player and one of the most successful team leaders in all of basketball history – yet he is far from a marquee guy. Few people show up to see him the way they do LeBron James or Kobe Bryant. Well, it turns out it this is all part of Duncan’s plan. He HATES the spotlight and actively gives boring interviews so he can keep his profile low. A Sports Illustrated reporter recently described an interview with Duncan this way: “…tiny bursts of spectacular blandness.” (The story is actually fascinating .)

Do you have something to say and want the media’s help along the way? Provide the time the reporter needs, knowing they will ALWAYS be listening for a great quote or sound bite throughout the interview. And if you want to stay out of the spotlight, work at providing reporters with “spectacular blandness.” They probably won’t be back to talk with you anytime soon!

Please follow along through the month @CaryPfeffer

Cary Pfeffer is the founder of ClearComm Consulting,, a Phoenix, AZ-based communications consulting firm which is helping people tell their story. He works with clients to make the most of their media and live audience communication. Email him at: [email protected].

Follow along with Cary on Twitter @CaryPfeffer

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