11 Ways to Annoy a Journalist
These common faux pas will ensure that you’ll get cut from their story
Congratulations! A reporter wants to include you in a story. Whether it’s because your site is optimized or you’re highly visible on social media, a journalist has found you and is interested in writing about your business. However, a journalist finding you is just the starting point. Every word you say to a reporter from the second they reach out to you until the story goes live matters.
Here are the 11 most common ways to annoy a journalist and risk getting cut from a story.
- Speaking in industry jargon. There is a reason people hire publicists: They know how to speak journalists’ language. Publicists know what journalists are looking for, when they are looking for it, and how they want to consume it. If a reporter reaches out to you, do not start speaking in industry jargon. A reporter wants the simplest version that their readers will understand. They want you to break down your story in a way that makes sense to consumers — not to other people in your industry. They are coming to you because you’re an expert. Boil down your points so they are digestible to the masses.
- Answering 10 hours later. Reporters are working on deadlines. Typically, a reporter is working on several different stories at once, not just the one they emailed you about. The sources that get back to them the fastest are most likely to be included in their story. If you answer them 10 hours later, they might already be working on their next story. If you see an email with “Press Request” or “Jane Doe from X News,” be sure to prioritize it.
- Referring them to your publicist who doesn’t answer. If you hire a PR person to handle your media, make sure they are responsible. The worst mistake you can make as a business owner is referring a journalist to your press person, only to have them answer a week later. If you notice your PR person hasn’t answered a reporter within one to two hours, it’s time to find someone new. Your PR person should be optimizing your chances for press coverage, not diminishing them.
- Blowing their story on social media. If a reporter invites you in to film a segment, listen very carefully to what they ask you to do. If they say, “No photos or videos from this can be leaked on social media until after the story is published,” do not post anything. Recently, I filmed a behind the scenes segment for a story I was working on and the source leaked the entire story on Instagram Live. I will not include them in any further stories. If you’re that impatient for a story to go live that you have to leak it on social media, you don’t deserve to be in the story.
- Asking them to pay for things. If a journalist is interested in featuring your product in a story, it’s important to pay any associated costs that go along with this. If you don’t, you make it very difficult from them to try the product and ultimately feature you. If a journalist wants to feature your product, do not ask them to pay for the product, the shipping of your product, or your travel expenses to get it in their hands. If you are lucky enough to be considered, bite the bullet and pay the associated costs.
- Asking multiple times when the story is coming out. Once a story is filed, a journalist has to deal with several other departments. First, the story has to pass through their editors. Then, the story may have to go through the art department. When the story comes back to you, there may be new edits you want, which starts the whole process again. A journalist does not owe you an explanation of when their story is live. If you’re concerned, set up a Google alert for the journalist’s name and outlet so that you receive a notification when it comes out. Don’t annoy a journalist by asking when an article is coming out. Most of the time, they don’t know.
- Promoting a story without tagging the journalist on social media. Journalists are all competing to get eyeballs on their writing. If you’re lucky enough to be included in a story, journalists want to see that you’re promoting the link on your social media accounts. Don’t make a faux pax by promoting the link without including the journalists handle on Twitter or Instagram. Journalists pay attention to which sources are social media savvy. If you push their content, it doesn’t go unnoticed.
- Copping an attitude. If a journalist is including you, do not harass them. A journalist is featuring your product and helping you increase sales, so if you cop an attitude with them, why would they ever want to include you? A journalist is not concerned with how prominently your product is featured; they’re concerned with the facts of the story. The more you make it about you, the less credibility you have.
- Sending PDF’s. If a journalist asks for your press kit, do not send them a PDF. If a journalist has to copy and paste your PDF into word, many times the characters don’t show up or there is a break in the code. You want to make their life easier, not harder. Also, be sure to include product “blurbs” or descriptions in whatever press materials you give them. If you ever wonder why certain products have longer descriptions than others, this is why. If you don’t give a journalist source material to pull from, your paragraph will be shorter.
- Sending broken Dropbox links. If a journalist asks for your press kit and you send them a Dropbox link, do not deactivate the link after one day. Most of the time, the journalist may not open up the Dropbox link until the night before their deadline. If you deactivated the link, how are they supposed to pull your information for the story?
- Asking for changes after a story is published. Finally, if a journalist includes you in a story, do not badger them about making changes after the story goes live. If you want to ask them to change the spelling of your company name, that’s fine. But do not ask them to change what they have written about your company. Also, do not ask them to change website URL’s and descriptor text because your marketing manager said it would help you rank better on Google. This is a completely inappropriate ask. You have control over your assets on your site, not over another publication’s.
When you are communicating with journalists, remember to be appreciative. Journalists work hard to put together stories. Many of the journalists today are contributing writers for publications, in addition to having full-time jobs (such as myself). Journalists are very aware of the promotion you’re getting (for free) by being included in a story. Having a basic understanding of this dichotomy will take you far. If you are lucky enough to be included in a story, follow these tips and don’t blow it! If you make these mistakes, don’t be surprised if you “die on the chopping block floor” as the old saying goes.
Kris Ruby is the CEO of Ruby Media Group, a public relations and social media agency. Ruby is a frequent on air TV commentator and speaks on social media, tech trends and crisis communications. For more information, visit rubymediagroup.com or krisruby.com
This article also appears on rubymediagroup and Observer.com