I have previously written about how to work with reporters. I find that trying to make one’s research accessible and understandable is an important task and actually enjoyable. My work improves by talking with the vast majority of reporters who want to get it right, even when they are working under tight deadlines and education may not be their beat.
But working with reporters is not a one-way street. Just as providing information about how teachers can work with parents is useful information, I don’t want to give the impression that all reporters are alike, or that the onus is only on the interviewee.
As a rough estimate, I get about 15 media and related interview requests a month. Each person assumes the interview will “only” take a half hour or so, but when I add up the time for all requests I have to make sure that I’m investing my time wisely, and sometimes I’m not. Here are four examples I have had over the last several months that give reporters a bad name, or at least make me pause:
The bad student: Do your homework.
I appreciate that not all reporters writing a story may know a great deal about a particular topic; some are refreshingly candid. I frequently and willingly provide background when a reporter is starting out on a new topic. But if I send a reporter a short article or an op-ed I have written because they have asked me to send them some background, then I expect them to have read it prior to the interview. If I give someone, for example, a 700-word op-ed I have written about college access, it’s disconcerting if the interviewer begins with, “Have you ever written anything about college access.”
The yawner: Be polite.
I recently had an interview with someone who yawned her way through the interview. At one point I asked, “Am I boring you?” She said, “Oh no. I just had a late night last night.” That’s not only bad manners, it’s unprofessional. If you can’t bring your “A” game to the interview then don’t arrange the interview. And if you arrange a time for the interview, keep it. If I block out a half hour for you, then I expect you to do the same. And if you miss the appointment and then send me an e-mail saying, “Oops, I forgot” then I’m likely to say, “Sorry.”
The sleuth: Be clear.
Since I get a fair amount of requests I have to make quick decisions. Generally, an individual sends a request via e-mail. Sometimes I finish reading the e-mail and I have no clue what the reporter wants, or who he/she is writing for, or the timeframe for the interview. Any of those goofs and I’ll say no. I figure if the reporter is unclear at the outset then he/she will be unclear in the interview.
The pest: Be concise.
If I agree for an interview that does not mean I am your referral service or BFF. I have had interviewers ask me who else they might speak with, and that’s fine. Asking me for their e-mails and phone numbers is not; I’m not your secretary. It’s possible that sending a follow-up e-mail may be useful and fine; it’s equally possible that sending a follow-up e-mail, or worse, several e-mails, is creating a relationship that I reserve for my grad students. I honestly don’t have time to hunt down e-mail addresses, correct the spelling of names, or respond to questions drip by drip as the reporter learns more. “I just spoke to Professor Jones,” said one and he says your assertion about “X” is wrong. How do you respond?” I don’t play that game largely because I haven’t the time to play it.
Again, the vast majority of reporters are professional, hard-working, sincere, and a delight. But I also have had experiences with these four types more than once. The result is that I’m cautious when I accept media requests if I think the interviewer fits one of these types.