Why not responding to a journalist is often dumb

Jan 30, 2024

Since I left journalism more than two decades ago to work as a publicist, I’ve witnessed many reasonably sane and nice people behave oddly around journalists.

To be fair, journalists are often a bit weird.

Among the more common – and at times, hard to understand – quirks of human behavior I’ve seen among clients supposedly interested in being interviewed by journalists is not returning their calls, emails or texts.

I’m not talking about circumstances involving a journalist wanting to interview someone about a subject that would likely result in negative publicity. Rather, I mean those times when a client expresses eagerness to talk about a subject with journalists and, when some reporter or producer reaches out to him or her to see about arranging an interview… crickets. As in, the client doesn’t call back. Ditto for replying to a text or email.

When I ask the client why the radio silence, I typically hear one of a couple different excuses.

First, that the client didn’t have time to talk with the journalist.

Fair enough. But if you really don’t have time (as in, even 15 or 20 minutes, enough for most brief phone interviews), let the reporter know. Not responding at all is, um, strange and rude. You presumably wouldn’t behave this way with clients, so don’t with journalists.

Plus, keep in mind that the next time this same journalist is looking to interview someone about some subject relevant to your expertise, you can bet he or she will consider seeking out more responsive types.

The second most common client excuse I hear for failing to respond is that the topic the journalist wanted to talk about was not one that the client knew enough about and didn’t feel there was enough time to plausibly cram for an interview.

Again, these things, too, happen. Just let the reporter know you’d love to talk but can’t. If you don’t feel you know about the issues to talk on such short notice, say as much. You might offer to talk about the subject when you’ve had time to get up to speed. If the journalist can’t, so be it. The important thing is that you replied in a timely and courteous fashion.

On a related note, if you want to be considered as a possible source of insights or commentary to journalists, you often have to make time no matter how harried you are. Journalists typically operate on tight deadlines and have what can seem like a supernatural ability to find inconvenient times to want to yack. Yet if you want to be quoted or otherwise interviewed as an expert source, you have to make time. Period.

For the C-suite type, bending to the temporal whims of a journalist can be annoying. Just don’t bitch if when you blow off journalists eager to interview you see competitors quoted.