One of these days, you might have your phone ring or your email beep, to reveal a request from a journalist writing a story about prepping, and wishing to interview you for his (her) article. This might be for a newspaper or magazine or journal or website or blog or in some other form, it will be a print piece rather than a radio or television piece.
What do you say? Here are some helpful guidelines as to help get the best, fairest, and most positive coverage of your views.
Understand the Reality of the Article
Maybe the person approaching you will explain where the article is being published, but maybe not. If they don’t tell you, go ahead and ask them – ‘Do you have an assignment on this topic or are you writing on spec and will you be pitching it later?’.
If the journalist/writer is preparing an article for a specific assignment, ask ‘what is your deadline’ (in other words, when does the story have to be submitted to the publisher)? Maybe the answer will be ‘today’, maybe it will be further out. If there’s reasonable time before the deadline, you have more opportunity to delay your reply to the questions the journalist is about to present to you.
It is helpful to know what type of newspaper or magazine the piece will be appearing in. Obviously, something appearing in the New York Times will have a different slant to something appearing in the National Rifleman magazine!
Ask also how many words the article will be, and if the journalist is looking for any pictures, too. The more words, the better (as a general rule of thumb) because it allows for a more detailed explanation and discussion of what prepping is.
If the journalist is seeking pictures, maybe you can offer to help there too, and ‘quality control’ the pictures – in other words, leave out the unfair ‘scare’ pictures of guns, gas masks, camouflage clothing, etc, and concentrate on more truly representative ‘normal’ pictures of normal people doing normal prepping-related things.
Interview the Journalist
The journalist of course wants to interview you, but see if you can’t interview him first. Explain ‘So I can best understand where you’re coming from and what you’re looking for, can I ask you a bit about your story and angle first?’. He’ll almost surely agree, because you’re implying that you’re going to be helping him better by knowing the answers to these questions.
Ask what the central theme or premise is of the story, what topics it will be covering, and who else the writer will be interviewing. Ask where the writer is at so far in putting the story together, and what exactly he hopes to cover with you.
Also ask the journalist ‘Will you be including some arguments against prepping in your article? If so, I’d be pleased to offer rebuttals/responses to those points.’ That way, if the article is going to have some negative commentary in it, you have a chance to get some responses/answers to the negative points inserted into the article as well.
At that point, you then have a decision to make. If the deadline is still a few days out, and you’re not fully comfortable talking right away about the topic, say that you’re busy, that you’re just about to go out, and ask if you can talk more a bit later. You could – and should – also say ‘Can you email me a list of your questions so I can prepare for them when we next talk’.
On the other hand, if the journalist is on a tight deadline, and if you feel you’re fully up to speed on the topic, maybe you can move forward to the interview right away. We generally prefer not to, even if it seems a safe and easy subject. Indeed, more often than not, our interviews for print publications have been entirely by email, with maybe a short phone call to start or end the process.
The reason we prefer not to? See the next section.
Providing Pre-Written Material
If you can get a list of questions, you can then prepare some pre-written answers to give to the writer, complete with some researched independent facts and figures. You’re doing much of the writer’s job for him, and he will love you for it.
It gives you the time to prepare well written and factual replies to his questions.
If you are reasonably good at writing, you can also offer to send the journalist some pre-written material. Tell him it has never been published before and that he is welcome to take it and use it as he wishes. No reputable journalist wants to take something that has already been published, because he can’t then recycle it and claim it as his own work. But if you have unpublished material, that’s a different situation. Say something like ‘I prepared a sheet about the topic that I handed out when I was giving a presentation to my local XXX club a month or two ago, maybe I can send you that along with answers to your questions’.
The easier you make the journalist’s work, and the more prepared material you can send his way, the more likely his final article will draw heavily on the material you’ve provided and be accordingly more positive.
When you send in your material to the journalist, you should also send in a list of resources – send him the three or four websites you think best cover prepping issues, maybe links to other articles which have appeared, and anything else which can help make his job easier.
You want to be more than just a passive interviewee, you want to be a positive cooperating resource who helps the journalist build his article. If he finds the experience positive and easy and efficient, he is more likely to want to write more stories about prepping in the future.
On the Record vs Off the Record
The (probably unstated) ground rules, whenever you are dealing with any type of journalist or writer, is that anything and everything you say is ‘on the record’ and can be quoted or used by the journalist in the article he is researching/writing/presenting.
If you have comments you want to make that you don’t want quoted, you need to say ‘this is off the record’ or ‘I can tell you as background, but don’t quote me’ or ‘this is not for attribution’.
But be careful not to contradict what you say on the record with what you say off the record. That is a bit like saying to a policeman ‘officially, I am pleading not guilty, but just between you and me – and promise not to tell anyone else – I’m actually completely guilty of this plus some other crimes you don’t yet know about, but I’ll tell you about them too’.
Certainly nothing off the record should contradict anything on the record. Instead, it might be things that are too personal – for example, you might say ‘On the record, I can tell you I have a second holiday home about 100 miles from here’ and then when the reporter asks you more about it, you can say ‘Off the record, it is located in the small town of XXX, 93.5 miles from here, but I want to preserve my privacy a bit and not share that sort of personal information with your audience’. That way you are satisfying the reporter’s curiosity and also showing a valid reason for wishing to be a bit vague.
Another example of an off the record comments could be something like ‘Off the record, I’ve got to tell you that we think mountain men Aryan Nation survivalists are just plain crazy, but on the record, if you don’t mind, I’d rather avoid that subject entirely and merely stick to the positives.
You can also ask for a chance to review a print article before it is published, although you have to term such a request carefully so as not to give offense. You can say something like ‘I realize it is difficult summarizing everything you’re researching into a short article, and perhaps it would be helpful if I had a quick look at the piece before you send it in, just to check that something hasn’t got lost or inadvertently misstated as part of the editing and revising.
Most journalists will be happy to do that. They don’t want people subsequently complaining to their editors and publishers that they’ve written unbalanced unfair or just plain wrong articles, and by allowing you to have a look at what they’ve written, they not only reduce the risk of you complaining, they also – with your help – reduce the risk of other people complaining, and if anyone does, they have someone to share the blame with.
You also need to realize that the final part in the publishing process is usually out of the journalist’s control. This is the part after the article has been submitted to whatever media outlet, and then someone else – a sub-editor or editor – may then write a headline of their choosing, and possibly cut out or re-arrange the material to fit within the space available and to give the overall article the look and feel and style that this person feels is consistent with the publication as a whole. This may result in what you feel to be important parts of the story being lost, or a headline that doesn’t fairly reflect the content of the story, but it is just an unavoidable part of the process.
Note also that you and the writer have very different views about the subject matter. You probably know much more than the writer about the subject. But he is more of an expert at getting the basic essentials and outline of a story across to his/her audience, and may even best know which bits to include and which bits to leave out. He also understands the stylistic guidelines and requirements of the publication he is writing for, and remember, he is writing to both entertain and educate.
You might disagree with the final form of the article, and of course, you might want to see two or ten times more information included, but you have to understand that most general articles are never going to be as in-depth as you’d wish them to be.
Go with the flow, and if you can make a tweak or two to ensure an important point isn’t left out, or an important error doesn’t go uncorrected, then you’ve done well. Whatever you don’t do, don’t start demanding changes or being rude/offensive. Confine your comments to factual errors or essential omissions, don’t tell him his job at how to put the piece together.
After the Article Has Been Published
Here’s a very important thing that many people overlook. In golf, you are taught that the follow-through is an important part of your stroke, and when firing a shotgun you continue to move your shotgun as and immediately after you fire it.
It is the same with publicity. The follow-up after the article has published can make a big difference for what happens in the future.
Assuming that the piece ended up being more or less okay, you should send a note to the journalist after the piece has appeared, thanking him for the piece and his professional coverage, and offering to assist in any further stories on the topic.
Then, once a month or so, whenever something interesting or newsworthy happens, consider sending him a brief email ‘heads-up’ in case he wants to take the development and build another story from it. Don’t become a pest and don’t send every last little trivial thing to do with prepping, but do stay in occasional touch.
Working with a journalist who is researching and writing an article for a print type publication is usually the easiest form of media contact you’ll have, because you’re not under any time pressure, and no matter how you may stumble through questions and answers with the journalist, the final print piece will read smoothly without any ‘umms’ and ‘aaahs’.
That’s not a reason to treat such opportunities casually, however. The more responsive and helpful you are, the better and more positive the story is likely to be.