PR pitches: Can I ask a journalist to see their story before publishing?
Medianet is currently conducting its annual survey of Australian journalists, and a comment left by an anonymous participant caught our eye:
“There’s been a huge spike recently in media officers, and talent themselves, asking and sometimes demanding to see stories prior to publication. This is a very slippery and dangerous slope. Media minders need to know that this is an inappropriate request to make.
It’s also not appropriate to ask to sit in on interviews. When I’m confronted with requests like these, I politely decline, explain why, and go look somewhere else.”
Let’s unpack this!
First of all, what is the journalist’s concern here?
There is a very strong professional value in the media industry for maintaining ‘editorial independence’. Generally, especially in the mainstream news media, it is considered good journalistic practice to produce content that is balanced and accurate without serving to promote anyone’s personal agenda, product or service. A PR professional asking to see a story before it is published can be seen as a threat to this editorial integrity.
Similarly, a journalist may not appreciate a media advisor sitting in on an interview and preventing questions from being asked or censoring responses. Their job is to get to the bottom of an issue or story and this hinders that process.
Journalists also know that authentic, genuine and conversational interview responses create more engaging content for their audience. This is why many journalists prefer to conduct interviews on the phone, rather than over email. If a media advisor sits in on an interview, they might be concerned that the spokesperson will become self-conscious and give a boring interview.
So, can I ask to preview their story?
All journalists and news publications have their own preferences and values, so it’s important to note that this survey respondent’s comment doesn’t speak for everyone. Perhaps you have strong relationships with journalists who have been sharing their unpublished stories with you for years, in which case - carry on!
There are certainly exceptions when journalists may be happy to share an unpublished story, for example in a more advertorial type of media content.
However, for a lot of news journalists this request would be considered bad practice, so it’s best not to risk damaging your relationship with them.
What should I do instead?
The best way to ensure you, your spokesperson or your clients are represented accurately in a media story is to give a well-prepared interview. Most journalists are well-meaning and want to represent you accurately, they will not be trying to twist your words. As long as the spokesperson can stand by what they said in the interview, there is generally not much more you can do to ensure a media story shows you in a favourable light.
This article has some tips on how to prepare spokespeople for their next media interview.
Although many journalists will refuse this request as well, asking journalists before an interview for an overview of questions is less frowned upon than asking to see the story post interview. At the very least, they should be happy to provide you with an indication of the topics they would like to discuss.
If you are really concerned about the journalist misrepresenting you in their story, you could consider asking if it’s ok to record the interview yourself so you have a copy of it as well.
Medianet has also partnered with the experts from It’s PR Darlings podcast to offer an online course on crisis communications. This could be particularly helpful in preparing for a tricky interview for a story where you feel you or your client might not be portrayed very positively. The course includes crisis communication theory, examples of crises and inappropriate/appropriate responses and a workbook to create your own crisis communications plan so you are prepared to give an exemplary response which minimises reputational harm to yourself, your business or your client if you make the news for the wrong reasons.