MediaBlog: What You Should Never Ask A Journalist?

Conflict and cooperation are the cornerstones of the equation between media persons especially when it comes to the relationship between a journalist and a publicist. What are the few things that a journalist would rather not be asked

By Namrata Kohli

Whom all are you quoting in your story- is the most annoying thing for any journalist to be asked. And then there are other things- will it be a paragraph or a few lines? Won’t it be an exclusive? Will it not come in print and only web against that pay wall thing? Please madam, can you use it in the first para, since the rest gets hidden behind the paywall. Can you run the story through us before you publish… rubbish! As you fret and fume over these silly questions, you find you are not the exception but this is quite the norm.

My friend Nona Walia who has been a journo for over two decades with one of India’s leading newspapers, says that the most stupid line she has heard PR people say is “shall I give you some story ideas.” She says this is one sweeping line with which you undermine the job and capability of a journalist- “Give me a break and trust us to do our job. We have a pipeline of story ideas and even if we don’t, its our job to fish for new ideas.”

Ditto with Shashi Sunny who says PR people ask her if she could share the theme for next issue of her magazine. She says why do you think any journalist will share the theme of his or her next issue. The right thing to do is simply express that hey, this is my client and that is what he or she does.. we would love if you can spare your time for a conversation.

Shashi, as many would know, has been the Bureau Chief with Magna Publishing, a group that publishes Savvy, Society. She even goes on to say that freshers need a course in how to approach a journalist. It speaks rather poorly for the publicist’s home work when he or she asks “What is your magazine all about? As a Bureau Chief, I am not there to explain what it is all about? That homework should have been done by you and such unintelligent remarks simply put you off.”

Then what is the right way. It is to simply introduce your client and request for a casual chat, what many in the PR world also call “Relationship building meeting”. By the way, all journalists are pretty “wary” of this term called RBM because soon after the meeting, they are hounded with calls for “when will the story appear”. If you call it RBM, please make sure it is unconditional. Obviously a journo who is eating, breathing, walking, talking stories may at some point think or consider of quoting the person but allow that to come from him. And be prepared for the possibility of “no outcome”.

Another big issue that journos have to contend with, is to deal with an army of people accompanying a conference call or even in a meeting. It’s becoming commonplace that when you do a conference call, you have anything from six to even ten people in that call. The quality of the audio is sometimes so bad, that you are only half guessing what the primary spokesperson (the interviewee) is saying. I remember meeting actor Vivek Oberoi for an interview for HT, when he had 15 in his team and there was just one of me in the conference room of Leela, Chanakyapuri. I mean you can imagine one more at the max, but anything more than that is crowd, not company!

Most of these are “issues” that have NOT sprung up just once or twice -the same pattern tends to get repeated and points to a larger systemic problem. One basic understanding might help everyone in the PR world- your client is not my client, my client is my reader. I am serving his or her interests and basically doing everything to add value to his time and money he has paid to subscribe to read my story.

As a journalist, I do concur that there is a problem also with our writer’s fraternity who get rather lazy and don’t want to rack their brains, want things readymade and do a kind of helicopter journalism. The problem is on both sides. My next story is on the other side. Watch out.

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3 thoughts on “MediaBlog: What You Should Never Ask A Journalist?

  1. Amazing , very balanced and well thought of article. I agree with most of the points raised by the writer. Getting a team of 15 people is sheer stupidity, it seems more of an intimidation technique, rather than a regular interview. I am plain curious as to why the agency agreed to this nonsense of Vivek Oberoi? Allocating 15 resources to a celeb is sheer wastage of manpower hours.

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