How to annoy a journalist

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
Picture of Matthew Stibbe
on 8 January 2006
How to interview How to do PR

Journalists are the scum of the Earth and should be treated as such. Especially freelancers. I know. I used to be one. If you have to deal with these vermin, here are a few tips:

  1. 1. Ignore them when they ask you for an interview or for information. You don't need a relationship with them until you're ready to launch a product or you need coverage.
  2. 2. Say you'll do something and then forget about it. There's no need to worry about using a diary or to-do list to keep track of journalist requests. If it's important, they'll remind you.

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  1. 3. Wait until after their deadline to call them back. When you do, tell them you couldn't find a spokesperson on that particular topic but tell them to call you next time you are writing something because maybe you can help then.
  2. 4. Don't put any press contact information on your home page. Journalists love a challenge.
  3. 5. Tell all your receptionists to assume that all journalists work for The Sun and want to write lies and make stuff up. It's better if they don't actually speak to anyone.
  4. 6. If you do take a call from one, listen to what they say, who they are writing for, what the article is about and what they want. Don't take notes. Instead, when they've finished ask them to put it all in an email. They've got plenty of time and don't mind repeating themselves to save you a few minutes.
  5. 7. If you agree to an interview, ask them for questions in advance. Obviously, they're incapable of having a normal conversation and must write out each question in full, in advance. Not only that, but they aren't interested in a natural, informed response to the questions. They want robotic repetition of what your PR company told you to say.
  6. 8. Offer an email interview but get your PR company to write the answers. It's much more efficient.
  7. 9. Agree to an interview but then cancel it or change the time at the last minute. They don't have anything else in their diary so they can easily accomodate you. Even better, tell them you'll do the interview but then give them four hours notice of when you'll be available. This will make you look important. For maximum effect, start the interview by saying "I thought I'd have an hour, but I've only got fifteen minutes."
  8. 10. Get their home and mobile phone numbers and call them every time you send out a press release to make sure they have received it. They don't always check their email and they'll appreciate the reminder.
  9. 11. When you do an interview, wait until the end before saying 'of course, all that is off the record'. They respect people who know the language of journalism. Then complain to the journalist when the article appears and you haven't been quoted.
  10. 12. Make them come to your office for the interview, keep them waiting for an hour and then tell them you'll only do the interview if you can have full copy approval before publication. They like to be busy and sending the article to every interviewee, collating the results and rewriting the piece is the kind of extra work they love. Some of them love living on the edge and breaking the terms of their contract (which usually says that they won't give copy approval) will give them an added thrill.
  11. 13. If you give an interview, make sure that you check the quotations word-for-word. While they will almost always get the gist of what you said, they might sometimes apply Hansard rules, get the odd word wrong, edit for concision or mishear what you said and make an honest mistake. Even journalists with shorthand and tape recorders. It's hard to condense ten or twenty hours of interviews into a 1,500 word article and they'll appreciate your attention to detail. Copy any complaints to their editor to keep them on their toes.
  12. 14. Invite them on a press trip to California to meet senior executives in your company. Then wait until they've sold stories to two magazines before cancelling the trip. Don't tell them you've cancelled the trip until a week before the planned departure date. Don't offer any alternative way of doing the interviews so they have to cancel both articles. The embarrassment and loss of income will encourage humility. Show them who's boss. Under no circumstances apologise. [This happened. You know who you are. Feel very ashamed.]

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