Working with Journalists: Some Thoughts on Time and Scheduling

Want to build relationships with media representatives?

Here’s one thing to understand.

You aren’t equals. At least, your schedule and time and theirs are not equal.

I’ve spent a lot of years working with the news media, and while it’s an ever changing landscape for them and for us, some things have not changed. And here are some things about the basics of accepting an interview invitation.

First of all, if you are blessed enough to be invited for an interview, that’s huge. That means out of all the hundreds of other people clamoring for their attention, the media is interested in you.

Christian journalists are fellow believers, which usually means they are going to be nicer to you than other journalists might be and more willing to work with you on scheduling.

But unless you are Tim Tebow or Beth Moore, typically you are waiting for them to fit you in to their schedule, not the other way around.

Different people work different ways. Some of them will contact me and say, “when is she available?” and start from there.

More typical is a request to do an interview at a specific time and date. The majority of the time this will be a phone or perhaps zoom interview, no need to travel anywhere. You will just need a super quiet place (the inside of a car works well in a pinch).

When you get an invitation to an interview, it’ll likely come by email or text. Here are some things I’d recommend you do:

– Respond as quickly as possible.

– Clear your calendar to make the interview time work if you can.

– If you must suggest another time, make sure it’s a time and date you can keep.

– Don’t crowd the interview time too close to a previous engagement as you never want to risk being late.

– Find out if the interview is live or taped

– Listen and take notes to what they tell you about the interview. Some journalists will say more than others, but it would be typical for them to at least tell you how long the segment will be. They should also make clear who will call you, and exactly what time (often a few minutes before the interview time) or if they need you to call in somewhere or show up via Zoom link. They may also tell you if there’s a specific topic they want to develop, and possibly how many minutes they will do per segment. Pay attention and don’t make them repeat those facts.

– If you aren’t familiar with their show or news outlet, research it. For one thing, it might not be what you think it is and it might not be something you want to do. It’s fine to ask the journalist questions about the outlet and their objectives for your interview, but find out what you can first. And on the very rare times when you later decide the media outlet isn’t for you, cancel the interview rather than just not showing up.

A bit more on these points.

If you are totally not available at the time they request – say you have a day job and can only do interviews on your lunch hour or after work – they will try to find another time. Or if you already have a doctor’s appointment or a child’s program at school, they will generally try to find a time that works, but sometimes they say, sorry, I can only take someone who is available on that day and time.

But do your best to be available. If you have lunch with a friend scheduled during that time, it would be my suggestion to change the lunch date.

And you don’t ever want to blow off a journalist and not show up or not take a phone call when you said you could. People remember – and they share stories with each other.

Some factors in this you might not realize.

As technology changes some of this is easing, but if you are working with a traditional radio station, the journalist may only have the studio at certain times and days to do their show. If they have an hour window, they are likely stacking multiple interviews within that timeframe. So if you run 10 minutes late, you run the risk of forfeiting your chance to be interviewed at that time.

You also just wasted a half hour of studio time the journalist jealously guards.

And then there’s live vs taped. Most of the time interviews will be taped. And most of the time if it’s live, they will stress that to you, or if you are working with a publicist, the publicist will. I always write LIVE in all caps in an email informing an author of an interview for a live show.

Because imagine what happens if you fail to show up for a live interview when you were the 12 minute segment the show had planned.

As this interview is being offered and scheduled, you and that journalist may both be looking at calendars on your iPhones, but chances are their view of their time and scheduling is quite a bit different from yours.

By the way, if you are at an in-person, multi-day event, and chatting with a journalist about finding a time to do an interview, some of these tips don’t apply or at least not the same way. They will understand if you have interviews already lined up. In fact, having a totally clear calendar in that context is not good – you want to be seen to have others also interested in interviewing you. You still need to be very clear about the details, in this case the where as well as the when of the interview, and find out if it’s video or audio-only. In that setting, be sure to know how to contact the journalist in case of emergency and you are stuck in an elevator or have a flat tire.

Whether in person or via email and phone, be respectful of a journalist’s time and enjoy the privilege of being part of the world where news stories are created and shared, and getting to share yours.

Originally sent as an email to the Buoyancy community on August 5, 2022.
Joni Sullivan Baker
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