Questions in writing, please!


(First published in The West Australian, Monday Feb 19)

Who’d be a journo, for heaven’s sake?

Not only are you pilloried by large sections of the population for simply doing your job, but the people with whom you need to interact to get the story are hiding behind spin doctors and flack catchers who put up barriers between you.

One of those barriers is the one that says “put your questions in writing” after which you receive answers in writing, which gives rise to further questions you need to ask but have to be put in writing.

Who does this help? Nobody.  Except perhaps a PR manager who feels that warm inner glow from having “protected” his/her client from potential “harm”.

Let’s get one thing straight: Interactions with journalists should be no different than those with other external people. It’s called a relationship, and one of the basic elements of a relationship is good communication. Another is an appropriate level of trust.

Asking a journalist to put questions in writing indicates a certain lack of trust and does not bode well for the prosecution of an effective relationship.  Either that or you lack confidence in your own ability to effectively communicate your issue. In which case, you need help.

It also fails to take into consideration that which is the bane of every journo’s life – deadlines

The deadline means the next person in the news chain – the sub-editor – is waiting on the story. The closer you push to the deadline, the greater the chance of errors being contained in the story because of the lack of time available to check it thoroughly. And there is always the chance of the story not getting “a run” at all because it misses the deadline. In which case, you and your issue have missed out on some potentially valuable exposure. The other possibility is that the story gets a run but your point of view is not included. It’s even worse when it includes the line “So-and-so was contacted for comment but was unavailable” In the mind of the consumer you have something to hide – never a good look!

An effective relationship with a journalist involves face to face or telephone contact in which you both seek a result; the journo gets the story and you get coverage.  

There is little to fear in talking to a journalist. You convey what you know and can tell and when you can’t do that you offer simple, clear explanations as to why not. You never use the term “no comment” which is an invitation to be pursued and not a term you would use when communicating with your other external relationships.

Don’t compromise your relationship with journalists by asking for questions in writing. It simply makes life harder for them and delays the overall result for both of you.

Gerry Gannon

Feb, 2014

Posted in Blog