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Ask a Reporter Questions
By Randall P. Whatley, President, Cypress Media Group

Your telephone rings and a news reporter asks you if it would be all right to ask you a few questions. You freeze because you are caught by total surprise. You do not know this reporter. You do not know anything about the angle of the story. You wish you had more time to gather your thoughts.

Your telephone rings and a news reporter asks you if it would be all right to ask you a few questions. You freeze because you are caught by total surprise. You do not know this reporter. You do not know anything about the angle of the story. You wish you had more time to gather your thoughts.

If you were a Hollywood celebrity or business mogul, your agent would screen this type of call for you and ask the questions that you need answered to be prepared for an interview. Since you are not a bigshot with an agent, here is what you can do to help yourself in this situation.

First, understand that you have every right to ask the reporter questions to get an idea of the story so that you can decide if you want to submit to an interview.

Perhaps you could open the dialogue with something like, "Yes, I would like to help you with your story. To get a better idea of what you are working on, may I ask you a few background questions?

It is most unlikely that any reporter will refuse this request. If they do, this is a warning signal that perhaps you should not talk to that reporter.

Proceed by asking the following questions:

  • How did you happen to contact me about this story?
  • What is your story about?
  • Whom else have you talked to about this story?
  • What did they say?
  • Whom else do you plan to talk to about this story?
  • What is your deadline?


Once you have obtained the answers to these questions, decide whether you are fully prepared to speak to the reporter. If you are not, tell the reporter that you need to gather your thoughts and some information and agree on a time for you to call back.


The following are a few caveats about this dialogue:

  • Speak in an open and friendly tone.
  • Frame your questions in the context of a desire to help the reporter.
  • Do not convey the impression that your answers will change once you learn what the reporter already knows from speaking to others

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Once you hang up the telephone, gather your thoughts, and compile any research that you will need to refer to in an interview and then return the reporter's call as soon as possible.




Randall P. Whatley, is a 26-year media veteran with diverse business experience. Whatley is president of Cypress Media Group, Inc. ( www.cypressmedia.net ), an Atlanta-based advertising, public relations, and training firm. He has extensive experience advising government officials, political candidates, public officials, and corporate executives on media relations and presentation skills. He has also written two syndicated newspaper columns and numerous magazine articles. Whatley has hosted his own television and radio program and appeared often as a TV and radio program guest, including a CNN appearance. He has produced hundreds of TV and radio ads and taught a myriad of seminars ranging from Public Relations Writing to Media Relations. He can be reached by e-mail at randy@cypressmedia.net.

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