Should You Ask Reporters For The Questions?

Written by Brad Phillips on February 7, 2011 – 6:41 am

Last week’s Question of the Week asked readers to share their thoughts on this question: Should you ask reporters to see their questions prior to an interview?

Judging from the comments I heard, there’s absolutely zero consensus in the P.R. world on this issue.

Here are a few of your replies, which range from “absolutely not!” to “yes, of course!”

Kate Cohorst, Senior Writer/Editor, Notre Dame College of Arts & Letters: “No way. Asking for questions seems paranoid and makes reporters suspicious.”

Dustin Terpening: “It’s my experience that reporters are willing to share their line of questions…I’m actually kind of surprised by the notion that people think it’s offensive to ask a reporter what they might ask.”

Leila of Dynamite Public Relations: “No, you shouldn’t ask for the questions. But you can ask about the angle which often leads to the questions being offered.”

Jill Chamberlin: “Generally, a simple, “She (or he) asked what topics/questions to expect so that she (or he) can be prepared and helpful,” will prompt at least a casual response that is telling.”

Jeff Domansky, aka The PR Coach: “Color me prehistoric, but…wouldn’t that offend you, even a little, as a reporter? Why risk it?”

Anna Melendez Johnson: “Sure, why not? I would never expect the reporter to stick to the questions, but if it helps my spokesperson to prepare – it works in my organization’s favor.”

Steven Piessens: “Forget about fishing for the questions, just make sure you know what the interview is about and who’s the journalist/media.”

Krista of PR in Pink: “I work in pharmaceutical and healthcare PR. I find that the trade reporters I have built relationships with are used to sending Q’s in advance of interviews.”

Blake Rhodes of Xenophon Strategies: “I have worked with clients who have demanded questions before even agreeing to the interview. As the messenger, I could feel the cold front…coming through the other end of the phone.”

Paul Nonnenmacher: “There’s nothing wrong with asking. I always advise those I’m training that the more they know…the better they’ll be able to answer those questions.”

Pat Smith of Smith Strategic Communications: “I found reporters often withheld key questions in any event and worked them into the interview.”

Chris H.: “I have never had a reporter react negatively to our request.”

 

Up to now, I’ve always told clients not to request questions in advance. Coming from the world of “hard news,” I always regarded questions as proprietary, something not to be shared until the moment they’re actually asked.

But I’ve sensed for some time that the rules are changing and that my “old school” view is becoming outdated. Plus, many of my clients have successfully asked reporters for questions for years. 

Question Man

So, after reading all of your (very smart) comments (thank you!), here’s my view:

I’m shifting from “no” to the middle road on this one. Here are a few tips that may guide your approach:

1. Explore Gently: Commenter Pat Smith put it best: “explore gently.” Rather than explicitly requesting the questions, keep doing what you’re probably already doing: Ask about the story angle, areas of interest, and whether there are any specific pieces of information the source should research prior to the interview.

2. Hard News vs. Soft News: My general sense is that hard news reporters – think Wall Street Journal or The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer – will bristle if asked for questions, whereas “soft news” reporters and some trade publications will happily comply.

3. Existing Relationships: Many of you pointed out that your relationship with the reporter should guide your decision, and you’re exactly right. If you know a reporter and he/she has no problem with sending the questions, go for it. If you don’t, I’d go back to the “explore gently” phase.

BUT BEWARE

Don’t be lulled into a false sense of safety if you get the questions in advance. Reporters can still ask unexpected questions – and they will. Regardless of whether you get the questions in advance, prepare for the interview as if you’ve never seen them.

Your main messages should always reflect what you want the public to know, and shouldn’t change much depending on a reporter’s questions. Therefore, you should use the questions you receive in advance primarily to help you think through how to transition from their questions to your answers.

Related: How to Become a Better Media Guest in Three Seconds

Related: Don’t Dumb It Down. Just Make It Simpler.

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    The Mr. Media Training Blog offers daily tips to help readers become better media spokespersons and public speakers. It also examines how well (or poorly) public figures are communicating through the media.

    Brad Phillips is the Founder and Managing Editor of the Mr. Media Training Blog. He is the president of Phillips Media Relations, a media and presentation training firm with offices in NYC and DC.

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