Journalism’s main purpose is to inform the public of what is going on in their government and within their communities. Often, this can cause people to be afraid to talk to journalists; they’re worried they’ll slip up, say something in an interview that is wrong or badly phrased and be publicly condemned by an unfeeling, faceless news organization.
The current administration’s clear distrust of journalists promotes fear of news media, as well as some legitimate missteps on part of a variety of major news sources, such as the recent controversial New York Times headline reading “Trump Urges Unity Vs. Racism” following the El Paso and Dayton shootings in August.
We’ve seen this distrust firsthand at The Retriever. And we certainly wouldn’t argue that there isn’t room for some skepticism — not all newspapers, after all, are made equal. But because of this distrust, a particular troublesome pattern has emerged in which many of our requests for interviews are answered with a carefully written, overly formal PR statement.
We get why that might seem like the better option, especially if the article’s subject is difficult or controversial. If you’re sending us a concise paragraph via email, you can read it a thousand times before you hit send. You can use spell check; you can ask other people to read over it. We also get that us requesting an interview feels a little bit like your mom texting you the phrase “can we talk” with no context and seven question marks. Your initial reaction is always going to be some combination of fear and annoyance.
It’s safer — or at least, it feels that way.
But the truth is, when you refuse to speak with journalists, two things happen: We look like we can’t do our job, and you look like you don’t care. PR statements are often cold, emotionless things. If you’re going to tell the campus something they won’t be happy to hear, the least you can do is show that you give a damn by sitting down and answering a few hard questions.
And if you’re worried that news organizations are planning to twist your words, don’t be. The current editorial staff of The Retriever works harder than ever to ensure our reporting is factual, thoroughly researched and balanced. You are not taking a risk by talking to us because this is a group of people that cares deeply about accurate reporting. And we always make corrections and updates when necessary.
Alternatively, if that’s your main concern, here’s another option: Release your statement and make sure your perspective is known. Additionally, grant us an interview. Just as there are important details you worry about us leaving out of our reporting, we guarantee that there is also vital information that you’re not going to put in your campus-wide email blast.
For everyone who has been reading this article with an angry scowl on their face, thinking that this sounds remarkably like a situation they’ve been in before, this is not a condemnation. Our goal isn’t to reprimand organizations who have avoided talking to us in the past. It’s to remind everyone on campus that when we ask you for an interview, it’s because we want to write nuanced stories, rather than stories that only include one voice or one perspective. And when all we have to represent a particular perspective is a written statement, everyone suffers for it.
Our inboxes are always open. Shoot us a message. Schedule a meeting. Let’s talk.