Dave, I’m a book author and am baffled. I frequently get asked by journalists for my thoughts on specific matters, but while I respond within a week or so with long essays on what I think is the subject of the interview, very, very rarely am I quoted. What’s up with that?
To answer this, I turn to my colleague and fellow journalist Esther Schindler of Bitranch, who answers this question in general terms, but with some superb insight into how journalists work and how to maximize your chances of actually being quoted:
This question is a classic situation where it sounds like we have a journalist asking a book author for input on an article. There’s a good chance that the journalist really wants to quote such an author, because it’s always helpful to get an expert’s view. (In my humble opinion, this is far better than quoting an “industry analyst”… but that’s a tirade for another time.)
From the author’s point of view, this is an opportunity for a BIG FAT PLUG for your book. I’m not sure that anybody will run out and buy a copy because you said something pithy, but it can’t hurt and it certainly raises your visibility. Besides, in your next book proposal, you can cite the news articles in which you were quoted as a Big Name In Your Field.
So the reporter and the person being quoted both want this to work. However…
Most authors I communicate with don’t provide one very specific bit of information that I always ask for: how shall I refer to you? Arguably, many of them are probably thinking that I already know them and thus shouldn’t have to provide that info. Even if that were true, this is the author’s opportunity to position himself in the manner he wants to be perceived. Sometimes you might want to be referred to as, “Joe, a QA manager at Big Company” (if you’re trying to get glory for your company), another time you want to be “Joe, a senior consultant at Joe Inc.” (if you want to get the income for yourself), or “Joe, author of “Joe’s Secret Recipes for Brownies and Quality Software.”
In logistical terms, by NOT providing the info to the reporter, you may be setting yourself up for not being quoted at all. (And since you presumably put some attention into writing your response, that’d be a bummer.) If I’m on deadline and I asked three experts to comment (in the hope that ONE of them would respond by 1:30pm), I may not have time to write back to you for the “how shall I refer to you?” query. (For Software Test & Performance that’s rarely a problem, since I can usually follow up with that info after the copy editor is done smoothing my text, but you never know when I’ll introduce you to an eWEEK reporter. I hang out with these guys.)
The short lesson here is to always provide a VERY short bio sentence for the reporter, even if it isn’t requested. Oh, and be fast off the mark: the week you spend writing a long essay means that you probably completely missed my deadline. I’d rather have one paragraph within a few hours than twenty unquotable paragraphs a week later.
Never confuse an interview with a conversation.
This was a really hard lesson for me to learn on the reporter side of the table, and I suspect it’s hard to learn as the interviewee, too. That’s not to say that you can have a great discussion, and in fact the very best interviews demonstrate a real connection between the parties involved. But even in those cases, you should always keep in mind that — unless this is “A Q&A with James Gosling,” in which you’re the star of the show — the reporter will be looking for meaty bits that fit into the flow of the article being constructed.
That implies “sound bytes,” and the situation isn’t usually as dire as that. (Though I have, on occasion, spent more words introducing a speaker than quoting her.) The point is to be aware that the microphone is on, and that you’re more likely to be quoted at length if you provide info that will help others, tell a story (as long as it’s short or can be summarized… I cry every time I hear a wonderful anecdote that goes on for 200 words, when I can’t cut it down), or in some way help the reader to do his job better. (Just as when you’re writing a book, except we’re looking at WORD count and not PAGE count.)
Don’t be general. Always be specific.
Don’t say only, “Use good coding.” (duh) That’s a topic sentence. You need to follow it up with an example. For instance [<– see?], I just got a note back from an IT pro who said, “For instance theres no point in having an application that declares a string instance and a server variable then destroys it the minute it’s no longer in use, just to have an SQL statement within a function that has to be submitted twice to the server just because he or she can’t be bothered declaring all the column names within the table he is requesting from.” That’s long, convoluted, and there’s probably someone who’ll disagree with it… but it’s specific.
Thanks a bunch for your informative response, Esther!