How to talk to a reporter and get quoted

If you’re an expert, reporters may call you — especially if your opinions on a topic rank on Google. What a great opportunity to spread your knowledge and reputation!

Don’t blow it.

Today, I drafted an op-ed for the Boston Globe with a hook in today’s news. I emailed three authors whose opinions I knew would spice things up and suggested some questions. One responded quickly with two sentences. One wrote two pages of responses. One didn’t respond at all.

Which one do you think I quoted?

If you’re lucky enough to have a reporter call you, here’s what you have to do to get in the paper:

  1. Respond quickly. Reporters are on deadline. Respond within an hour if possible. They likely contacted several people — whoever responds fastest is likely to get the quote.
  2. Listen. They need a response on a specific topic. Unless you hear what they are looking for, you won’t understand how to provide the relevant detail.
  3. Don’t try to be an expert on things you’re not. When I was a music analyst, a reporter called and asked my opinion on the seminal producer Quincy Jones. I knew all about downloads, file-sharing, iTunes, and streaming. I knew nothing interesting about Quincy Jones. So I declined after explaining what I covered. The same guy called me back on a music tech topic later — because I had been smart enough not to bullshit him.
  4. Take a stand. Reporters won’t quote you equivocating. If you’re knowledgable, you ought to have an opinion. Say the most interesting thing you can say. “Could go either way” won’t get in the paper.
  5. Be brief. They want to get your quote and get off the phone. Nothing drives a reporter crazier than a source who just runs on and on (and never in complete sentences). Try to deliver a crisp sound bite on the topic.
  6. Be quotable. Don’t be too cute, but if you have a clever turn of phrase, you’ll probably win. My favorite quote of all time comes from travel analyst Henry Harteveldt, when Reuters asked him about a new airline from Hooters. “I expect Hooters Air to bounce along until they go bust,” he told Reuters. “They will never be a major factor in the scheduled market. It is proof that there is no shortage of stupid ideas in the airline business.” Short. Pointed. Funny. And ultimately, accurate. No wonder Henry gets quoted in every story ever written about the travel industry.

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  1. Josh, how do you think No. 4 fits with the Twitter post earlier this week? Often as experts, we recognize and report “that it is complicated” and we (hence, no one) knows. (Some have said that it the real mark of expertise.)

    As you say, reporters want a stand, even if it is wrong–that seems to be close to “truth does not really matter.”

    1. You need to learn to be clear and succinct about what matters, even in a complex situation. That’s a skill. Don’t say “x will fail” say “the success or failure of x depends on how long y takes to get to market.” Nuance can still be brief and clear.