How to Be a Media Darling: There's No Getting Away from It. Reporters and Legislators Need Each Other. Here's a Primer on Your Rights and Responsibilities When Giving an Interview

Article excerpt

More complicated than the federal tax code and as mysterious as an old episode of the X-Files, the relationship between legislators and the media may never be fully understood.

It's a classic love-hate connection where trust, respect and cynicism often collide in a violent fury. At times it's a marriage made in heaven, and other times? Well, you get the picture.

The American Journalism Review has identified more than 500 reporters who cover the nation's 7,382 state legislators full time. Add the editors, news directors and media outlets that cover the legislature part time and there is easily one reporter for every 10 state lawmakers.

Reporters and legislators need each other. Whether lawmakers are seeking publicity for legislation or are interested in advancing their own political careers, they need the attention and recognition that a media report brings. Good reporters depend on legislative sources to provide information, background analysis or simply the quote that makes their story stand out.

Like any information swapped around the proverbial water cooler, the best stories are the ones that get talked about the most. Reporters want to generate those kinds of stories. They work hard to carve out reputations with their editors, readers, listeners and the people they cover. Their motivation is a good story. Their zeal and determination in obtaining that story is often interpreted as a personal attack.

Legislators need to talk to reporters. The public still gets most of its news from tire media, so reporters are an important conduit to get out information about legislators and legislative activity. Focus groups also indicate people don't have time to keep track of legislative activity, so getting attention in the media is critical.

You know you have to do it. Here are some tips on making it easier.

1

TAKE TIME TO UNDERSTAND HOW THE MEDIA OPERATE.

First, take a closer look at the newspapers you read and the TV news you watch. What makes news? The PR firm Fleishman-Hillard says the media like stories about:

* Winners and losers.

* Heroes and villains.

* Criticism, conflict and controversy.

* Trends or change.

* Something new, unusual or different.

If you wonder why the media doesn't seem interested in your bill or media event, change your pitch so it falls into one--better, two--of those categories.

2

REMEMBER THAT REPORTERS HAVE IMPORTANT CHALLENGES.

Reporters have daily deadlines, must have their stories approved by editors, can only report what people tell them and are the subject of endless 'pitches' from people who want news coverage. You also need to know that they don't write the headlines or decide which news stories air. Those decisions are left to editors and news directors, respectively.

3

KNOW YOUR RIGHTS.

You have certain rights during an interview. For example, you have the right to:

* Know the topic. Ask what subjects the reporter expects to cover in the interview. If the interview gets into an area you are not prepared or ready to discuss, set up a time for the reporter to come back.

* Know the format. Is the interview for broadcast? Is it live or taped? Is it for a newspaper or magazine?

* Buy time. Just because a reporter grabs you when you are walking off the chamber floor, that doesn't mean you have to answer those questions right away. …