Six Things The Media Want From You

The title of this lesson looks like it contains a typo. That’s because in everyday conversation, most people would phrase the title as, “six things the media wants from you,” not, “six things the media want from you.”

But grammatically speaking, they’re wrong. “Media” is a plural term, not a singular one (medium is the singular term).

That may seem like grammatical nitpicking, but it’s an important point that you should carry with you during your time as a media spokesperson. You shouldn’t think of “the media” as an “it,” a single entity that acts in a specific and predictable manner. Instead, you should think of “the media” as a plural, a collection of markedly different news organizations approaching news gathering in vastly different ways.

For example, The Wall Street Journal doesn’t want the same thing from you as People Magazine. Whereas The Journal might just need a quick quote from a financial analyst to plug into a short article, People might be looking to write a three-page profile of an ordinary person who overcame tremendous obstacles to achieve a remarkable feat.

So what do the media want from you? It depends on the news organization, the reporter, the story, and the format. But as different as news organizations and reporters are from one another, almost all of them want the same six things from the media spokespersons they interview:

1. Honesty: Reporters expect honesty from spokespersons and will punish people who lie. This is non-negotiable.

2. Access: Reporters want access to the people they’re reporting on. Sure, they can file stories without the cooperation of their subject – but they occasionally punish uncooperative subjects by running a more negative story.

3. Timeliness: More than ever, reporters operate under brutal deadlines – some online stories have to be written, edited, and posted within an hour. Reporters want spokespersons to return their calls and emails quickly.

4. Candor: Reporters want to know what you’re saying to trusted colleagues behind closed doors. They prefer speaking to straight-shooters who speak without guardedness.

5. Knowledge: Reporters want spokespersons who are “in-the-know.” They don’t have to know everything, but should be able to speak credibly on their topics of expertise.

6. Media Savvy: Reporters want to speak to spokespersons who can offer short, understandable, and quote-worthy media sound bites. Spokespersons who give long, technical answers are difficult to quote – and may even be tough for reporters to understand.

Remember: this article is focused on what reporters want from you – and those things may or may not always be in your own self-interest.

For example, reporters might want you to tell them everything you know, even though doing so would hurt your cause. They might want you to speak to them immediately, even though you haven’t had a moment to prepare for the interview.

Still, these are good general guidelines, and it’s easy to understand why reporters want these six things from you. In an ideal world, you would be able to deliver on all of them.

What have I missed? Please supplement my list by adding your thoughts to the comments section below.