Make every effort to get that comment

July 21, 2015 01:30

By Lynn Walsh, RTDNA Contributor

As journalists, we deal with this every day: comments from people, businesses or other entities named in our stories. You reach out for comment and wait.

Sometimes it may feel like your waiting for what seems like eternity, but you continue to (hopefully patiently) wait.

Depending on your deadline, the amount of time your able to wait may be different. Obviously, with breaking or daily news stories you will not always be able to give them the full 24 hours or more you would like.

Whether it's deadline or not, I think it's important to make sure you are providing ample time, within your deadline constraints, for a response. It's only ethical and fair to the people being named in your story (whether they are being positively portrayed or negatively) and your audience.

Here are some things I think you should consider when reaching out to these people and organizations:

Response time
You want to provide them with ample time to respond. This is going to be different with every story. But if they say they will get back to you tomorrow and it can wait until then, I think, in most cases you wait. Sometimes this can be a stall tactic but if they haven't burned you before and if you have the time, I tend to give them the benefit of the doubt and wait. On daily stories, reach out ahead of time if you can. The day before you have the story set up to air. Or it should be the first calls you make when assigned the story. Same with breaking news: the calls and emails should go out immediately. Sometimes this means a member of your team is calling while someone is writing up the story details for web and social.

Exhaust all options
Calling one number or emailing one email is not enough, in my opinion. It may be enough at first. But if an hour or two (or day or two, depending on the story deadline you're working with) goes by and you haven't heard from them, try other options. The beauty of the Internet is you can search and find a lot of different contact information for people. Send emails to personal and business accounts, call all phone numbers, etc.

Visit in person
If calling and emailing doesn't work, sometimes it's necessary to see them in person to get a response. This comes in to play a lot with government or elected officials. Weigh the pros and cons but depending on their involvement in the story this may be necessary.

Present fairly
When you still don't have a response, be sure to present this fairly and accurately in a story. In breaking news or daily story situations, say, "They didn't immediately respond," instead of just "They didn't respond." Making it clear to the audience you called and emailed, etc. can sometimes help,too. So it's not just, "We contacted them." It's, "Our calls and emails were not returned," or "Multiple attempts to reach them were unsuccessful."

Nowadays with the Internet, we have the ability to update stories long after our newscasts have been on air. If and when you receive a response, I think it's important to update the story. Depending on your news station policies, this may be through a new story or by updating a current story.

Deliver their response when it comes
It's important to include the full response in your stories. This may mean linking to it online and social media. But it also means accurately and fairly summarizing or including the full context of the response in any TV version.

Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning journalist currently leading the investigative team at KNSD in San Diego, California as the Investigative Executive Producer. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Follow her on Twitter, @LWalsh, Tumblr, or contact her via email:


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