Phones. If you are under 30 the chances are you never actually CALL anyone on your phone. All your communication is done online, through apps, messaging, stories, snapchat. Even your friends don’t speak to you on the phone.
So it’s no surprise that when I ask journalism students to contact people they’d like to interview for a report, they pretty much all head off to email, or even Facebook messenger to try their powers of persuasion. Guess how often it actually works? I hear the words “they’ve said no”, or ” I can’t get hold of them” so many times.
I know you may feel it’s intrusive to call someone, but in the world of news, it’s the fastest and most successful way of getting that interview, setting up access for filming and recording, and for persuading.
If you ask someone to go on camera, or do an interview, the chances are many will say no. That may be because of time demands, fear of going on screen, nerves about being stitched up by a journalist or just sheer panic. If you’ve emailed them, it’s super easy for them to respond with a firm no.
Your job is to find a way to get them to say yes. Because it’s going to make your story easier to pull together, and faster. I once called my news editor in London because we were struggling to get an interview with people on a controversial subject. ” Don’t call me with problems ” he warned. ” Just get an interview”.
I read a news editor recently commenting that new journalists are slowing down the news gathering process because they are so reluctant to use the phone. It’s something you absolutely have to overcome in order to pursue a career in this industry.
Talking to people, asking them to explain, to expand on, to discuss their subject is a much easier way to get them to then agree to do an interview, rather than an email which simply says please talk to me.
There is no better way to get someone to say yes to you and your deadline.
So here are 5 top tips for using the phone ( I actually teach sessions on this )
- Prepare– who are you calling, why, what do you want to know from them, how can they help you. Plan before you pick up the phone- even just for a minute. Be sure you know who you are calling and how they might be important in your story.
- Introduce yourself – Take time to be polite and explain why you are calling. It’s amazing how many calls I hear where students forget to do this.
- Ask them more– You are calling this person because they are part of the story- perhaps they are experts, report writers, caught up in the story. They know more than you, they have lots to tell you. Start by asking them about them. It’s a well know fact, we are drawn to people who show interest in us, who ask us questions and show interest. Ask them and listen.
- Be clear on what you need– most people in their lives have not been in interviewed by the press, let alone been on TV or radio or in the papers. Explain the process ( don’t assume they understand the lingo or process) and set out the requirement it will take and how it will work.
- Ask about access – this is something overlooked so often. Ask what you might film, or sounds you might get. Where can you interview them, do they have a factory, workshop, development, whatever, that allows you to tell the story better. Ask. It’s amazing what you uncover when you begin that dialogue and how much richer your piece can be for it.
Learning good phone technique is essential for journalists. If you’d like to book a session with me to go deeper into this process, drop me an email firstname.lastname@example.org