Don’t Call Reporters By Name

Have you ever been to a dinner party where someone you’ve just met addresses you by name a time or two during your conversation? As long as they don’t over-do it, it usually comes across as a nice demonstration of sincerity, perhaps even a bit flattering.

Some media trainers teach that it’s okay to apply the same philosophy to media interviews. It’s wise to use the reporter’s name, one argument goes, since reporters are ego-driven beasts who enjoy hearing their names on-the-air.

That may be true in certain cases. But generally speaking, there are at least two reasons why it’s a bad idea to address a reporter by name throughout a media interview:

1. It Makes Editing Tough: For the majority of taped pieces, the audience will never hear or see your interviewer’s question – they will only hear your responses. In addition, many news organizations use “off-air” reporters to conduct interviews, meaning their names will never be used in the final story.

Imagine you say this:

“Well, the most important point is that  taxpayers need tax cuts, Brad, and they need them now.”

That sound bite will virtually never be used verbatim, squandering an opportunity to communicate your most important point.

2. The Public, Not the Reporter, Is Your Audience: We teach our trainees to regard reporters as the conduit through which they speak to their audience. Addressing the reporter by name violates that rule – suddenly, your communication is directed at the reporter, meaning it’s no longer directed at your core audience.

I’m not a purist on this point. If you use a reporter’s name once or twice during an interview, it’s not going to destroy your effectiveness. But given the choice, I’d restrict your use of the reporter’s name to the thank you note you write after your interview concludes.