Journalists..what are they like?

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Ever wondered if you can trust a journalist? Or how you can get their attention?

Here’s part of  the script from  a talk I gave recently ….

First of all, and I know I may be biased in saying this, but I am firmly of the opinion that there is almost no such thing as bad publicity, almost.

I can think of three exceptions; Gerald Ratner describing his company’s products as rubbish, BP’s handling of the oil spill and of course, Gary Glitter. There’s no way back from that.

Any other kind of media attention can be used positively.  When you look at the examples above, it’s simple really, they got bad publicity because they’d done something wrong.

If you’re honest, open and have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear from dealing with the media.


For people who spend their working lives in the media, journalists don’t half get themselves some bad press.

If you see them in any soap opera , they’ll be caricatured as untrustworthy, duplicitious and out to stitch you up

But let’s look at how a journalist sees his or her self.

Well, it’s a sort of cross between a superhero and a saint.

A seeker of  the truth and an asker of questions on behalf of the audience.

And that’s another point I really want to get across, it’s not about you, it’s not about the journo, it’s all about the audience.

After all, the media is literally, a medium for carrying a message. Whatever you do, think about the impact it will be having on the people reading, listening, or watching you.

Anyway,, back to the journalist and let’s look at them a bit more closely.

They’ll be talented at what they do – it’s such a difficult business to get into that they will have to be just to get a job.

They’ll be very, competitive, it’s a competitive industry, and they’re often in competition with other media outlets on a story.

They’ll be highly motivated, you’re meeting someone who loves their job. They’re not in it for the money, which is usually just as well, it doesn’t pay that much.

They’ll be under a lot of time pressure, often technical pressure too – might be a newspaper reporter who now has to make a film report for his website or a tv cameraman who’s been trained up to be journalist, or a journalist who’s been trained to do the camera work.

Either way, they will be groaning under the weight of advances in technology.

From a personal point of view, they want to come out and get a story that reads well, looks good, or sounds good, to please their editor back at the base and advance their career.

Ok, let’s get the bit that’s on everyone’s minds out of the way…


I’m talking about the situation where a journalist turns up pretending to do a story about one thing, but is secretly about do reveal that you were a donkey abuser in a previous life.

The first thing to say is that a stitch up is quite rare – I’ve probably done maybe a dozen in my twenty years as a journalist and in every case, the person who was the subject of the expose, as we prefer to call them, was doing, or had done, something illegal.

Of course, this comes back to one of my first points, if you haven’t done anything wrong, you can’t be stitched up.

Another  reason the stitch up is rare is because it’s  time consuming and expensive. It takes research and manpower to dig out the facts that you need, time that few journalists have these days.

Also, it’s worth knowing that most big organisations have pretty strong ethics about this sort of thing. Unless you’ve actually committed an offence they won’t doorstep you or con you – if you have, well, you probably deserve it.

You are entirely entitled to ask what the line of the piece or the questioning will be, if they don’t tell you, you can complain.

If you do find yourself on the end of a tough interview…

Be polite, don’t lose your temper.

If it’s a really bad one, point out that no-one told you the questioning would be along these lines.

If anything is wrong, say you will rectify it immediately and find out what went wrong .

If you feel like having a laugh, have a go back, subtley…for example, I’m thinking of the MP interviewed during the expenses scandal, who turned the questions back on his interviewer, forcing her to reveal how much she earned. It’s a clever trick, but you have to be uber confident to pull it off. But you could ask what research they’ve done that makes them make these accusations, usually it will be none.

But again, bear in mind, my other big point, that it’s about the audience, if you’re on the end of aggressive quesitioning and remain reasonable and looking like you are trying to help, you will come out looking better.


You get free advertising and much more likely to be effective because it carries credibility – by the fact that it’s been written by a journalist and it’s not an advert you have paid for.

Raises your profile.

Opens doors when talking to customers, suppliers, councils.

Sales – an obvious point, but can’t be overstated. Depending on the product, you can get a massive reaction to a tv piece or a newspaper article.

So what do you do when the journalist does turn up? Well, I’ve got some “dos and don’ts”, all based on bitter experience.


Don’t ever, ever, say, “This will make a good shot.” Usually, it won’t and you’ll have irritated the cameraman or the photographer.

Don’t say ; “Don’t film that” .  This is the bit about being open, if you don’t want them filming things, don’t invite them in.

Don’t go on holiday immediately after releasing your press release – if they’re interested they’ll usually want to get hold of you immediately.

Don’t promise something you can’t deliver just to get them there then hope it will be alright on the night. It won’t.

Don’t say your name all the time – you will usually get one namecheck, in the article or the report, don’t worry, Anyone watching who wants to find you will be able to.

Don’t use jargon, or namecheck organisations like business link,  emda, your council, they won’t use it.

Don’t be really outspoken and controversial on the phone, say, slagging off banks, and then become all diplomatic when they turn up.


Do offer them a cup of tea.

Do be friendly and open – that point again, frankly, if you have something going on in your cellar you don’t want the world to know about, they’ll find it.

Do allow time out of your day, it is going to take two hours, probably three if it’s a film crew. You won’t be able to get anything else done.

Do have details, facts and figures to hand.

Do relax and enjoy it. After all, someone’s come along to talk about you for two hours, then they’re going to put you in the paper or on the telly or radio, and all your friends and customers will see it and you’ll feel great.


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