From early on in my career in newspapers I was involved in training others. I taught at a Westminster Press weekend training school in Oxford, and was a Westminster Press training officer. At least one of my trainees from those days is now a daily editor himself, writes Andrew Howard of Lakeside Media public relations.
Within Northcliffe, I was also a training officer, with a very high success rate, and all of my numerous trainees have been guided successfully through the National Council for the Training of Journalists National Certificate exams.
Here are some of my tips for trainee journalists. If you want to understand why they’re asking the questions they are, this may be useful.
1: There are at least two sides to every story. Don’t wait until the last minute to seek responses from one party to allegations made by another - be fair.
2: If you have to accept ‘no comment’, so be it. (Be warned though, if you’re the party saying no comment, that’s a huge missed opportunity possibly to change the whole emphasis of the story.)
3: Make sure people know why you’re getting in touch, and make it clear you’re intending to publish what people are telling you. Simply introducing yourself as a journalist seems not be be enough for some. I once spent 40 minutes on the phone to a chap who, at the end of the interview, said he thought the whole thing had been off the record. Lesson learnt the hard way.
4: Always keep your notebooks. Legal action can still be taken months or years after a story has been published. A clear shorthand note of conversations, and how and when they took place, can be priceless.
5: Always check the spelling of names, even Smith. Or is it Smyth, or Smithe? PG Wodehouse had a character called Psmith, with a silent P.
6: If you’ve been given someone’s details by a third party, always double check with that person if possible, or a relative if not. The local press needs to be seen as trusted, getting names, ages or addresses wrong diminishes that trust among people who know them.
7: You are the representative of the newspaper. So always be presentable and polite, even in the most trying of circumstances. And you never know when you might get called to court!
8: Don’t use technical expressions unless you know everyone else will understand them. If you’re interviewing someone who is using too much jargon, ask them to explain…for the reader, of course.
9: Never promise anyone that a piece you’re working on will be used. That’s up to the editor. Something else may come along and replace it, even after you’ve left the office!
10: You may be pressured by people who want to see any article you’re writing before it’s published. Politely decline. Anything could happen to the piece before it sees the light of day. Reading back someone’s quotes is, however, permissible.
For advice on dealing with the press, contact Lakeside Media public relations by clicking here.