where to find the right numbers
The Internet has revolutionised journalism in many ways. When it comes to getting in contact with somebody, it has made things much easier. These days, sometimes all you have to do is type the name of the person into a search engine to find out their phone number. Many academics have a personal profile page on the website of the university to which they are attached, usually with an email address and a landline number.
The most practical way to contact a politician is to go to or call the party headquarters to request an interview, attend meetings to make initial contact with the various parties directly – do not forget to leave your business card with your phone number, the name of your media and your e-mail address – or ask a colleague for the contact details of a particular politician. It is often a good idea to try newspaper journalists, who are not in direct competition with you and who, potentially, will be more willing to help you. When covering an election poll, you will only have a few hours to obtain reactions and make a “wrap”.
It is therefore essential that you prepare, keep up to date and add to your address book before the election period.
If you have just interviewed a source who can put you in contact with other potential interviewees, do not hesitate to ask them for contact details.
on the phone, STICK TO the 5w!
Before you pick up the phone, remember to write down the name of the person you are contacting, some biographical and current information (recent statements in the press or on social networks, publication of books, conferences, etc.) and the reason why you are calling (what news has led you to contact them). The Internet is a fast and efficient means of finding out this type of information. You will be more credible in the eyes of your interviewee and more comfortable during the discussion with this information to hand. Moreover, if they do not answer, you will not be caught on the hop and will be able to leave them a message on their voicemail without stumbling.
In any case, introduce yourself and check that you are not disturbing them. Give your full name, state that you are a journalist and the media for which you work, the date on which your piece will be broadcast, etc. Briefly explain the form in which their words will be broadcast (wrap, unedited interview, guest on a live broadcast, etc.). A person will be able to spare you 15 minutes more easily than an hour and will appreciate your awareness of this fact. In any event, be brief and do not bombard your contact with information. Give them time to talk, to think … If you are requesting an interview that is not urgent, be flexible, offering several time slots from which they can choose. For radio, meet in person where possible for better sound quality. A phone interview should be your last resort.
It may happen that the politician and their team request the list of questions you want to ask in advance. Ideally, you should politely refuse. However, if it turns out to be a stumbling block, you could consider a compromise, by sending an outline of the interview with the main issues to be addressed without giving details of the questions that will be asked.
KEEP YOUR ADDRESS BOOK UP TO DATE
At the end of the interview, thank your interviewee and remind them of the broadcast date. Tell them that you will try to send them the link to your production but do not make any promises in case you forget, at the risk of losing your credibility. Also, encourage them to call you back to let you know of any news items concerning them (conferences, book releases, etc.) or relating to the issues discussed during the interview.
The completion of the interview is not the end of the road! People you have contacted should not simply be forgotten. After establishing initial contact, work to win their “loyalty”. Respect the relationship of trust established with an interviewee who has given you their mobile phone number, which is often their personal number. Do not call them too often, avoid calling early in the morning or late in the evening, and do not give out their number to all and sundry. You can of course share contacts with fellow journalists, but do so in moderation.
Tip: store contact details on your phone, in your (paper) address book and in an Excel spreadsheet, to avoid losing them and to enable you to share them with colleagues.
One last thing:
It is not acceptable to broadcast a conversation you have secretly recorded. On the other hand, it is often wise to record all the answers given by your interviewee if you are on the phone, as long as you get their permission either in advance or during the interview. Tip: Do not stop recording until you hang up. At the end of the interview, give your interviewee the opportunity to speak about any aspects you have overlooked that could turn out to be particularly interesting.