Research: building history

This is the fourth post in a series of blogs about what media training trainees think when they come to a session. We talk here about what how journalists research before an interview and why you should do the same.

A news reporter is only as good as his or her research skills. This is a point often lost on organization spokespersons who talk with media. In many and probably most cases, these spokespersons plan just to answer the questions tossed at them by journalists. They don’t consider where the reporters are getting these questions. They depend, we suppose, on common sense to guide the questioning and this, in itself, is not common sense.

A good reporter will do at least some research for each story covered. Depending on the time the reporter has, the depth of research will vary a great deal but as the first and most reliable source, the reporter will go to previously-published information. Newspapers and magazines keep archived articles since they were formed – even if they are more than a century-old. Broadcasters may keep huge archives but it is impossible to view or listen to these broadcasts beyond the latest two or three items.  (This is an argument for maintaining the written press as the best source of our living history.)

For some stories – primarily feature or technical pieces – journalists will delve into a lot more research including White Papers, manuals, opinion pieces and many more documents. Nevertheless, the majority of interviews will be based on information that comes from previous stories about the organization or the areas in which the organization operates (the financial industry for a story about a bank…)

It stands to reason, if an interviewer wants to provide answers to potential questions, he or she should do the same kind of research. Look at previously-published articles, hopefully saved for you by the organization’s public relations unit – to see what the journalist/interviewer may know. This will give the interviewee a good idea of questions that may be posed. Better still, this should give the interviewee the means of telling his or her own story in a way that makes best sense to the interviewer.

Telling your organization’s story your way instead of responding only to questions is the best way of building an accurate and productive history of your company, charity or government body.


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