Should You Talk to Journalists?

Pressplate
Photo by Danger Ranger

I've been helping to arrange some interviews for a reporter, and one of the friends I approached asked "Is there any benefit to the interviewee?". This is actually a very perceptive question, most people jump at any chance to talk to a journalist, but there's real costs to that decision. Speaking as someone who has both written and been written about for money, I know a journalist's job is to persuade you to talk to them, whether or not that's actually in your interest. After I thought about it, I told him it really came down to what your goals are.

Good things that may happen

– Your work might be covered and publicized.

– He may approach you for quotes about related stories in the future.

– He might introduce you to other people in the area.

Bad potential side effects

– You lose valuable time you could spend actually building things.

– He could garble or misquote your points, leading to negative publicity.

– Other publications may decide not to publish stories if you're seen as giving an exclusive to a rival.

What may happen if you don't talk

– A competitor does provide the needed quotes, and gets the publicity.

– The journalist covers you in a negative way. This is very rare, but it's always there as a threat.

Most people radically over-estimate the dangers of being mis-quoted, but also have unrealistic expectations of the power of good publicity. A lot of it boils down to networking and exposure, and how much that benefits you depends on what you're trying to do. If you're focused on research or making technical progress, it's probably a distraction you should ignore. If the startup/fundraising side is higher on your priority list, being able to point to articles can really help in establishing the ever-desired perception of traction.

It's worth thinking about how you'll deal with interview requests before they come up. I've always loved talking to people about what I do, and my frustration at not being able to discuss my work was a big part of why I left Apple, so I've ended up working on projects where my tendency pays off. Your situation may well be different though. Unless you're clear-headed about your goals, you'll end up wasting your time. It's also worth pondering which publications reach an audience you actually care about. It might be that comparatively-obscure industry journals will let you talk to the decision makers in your market a lot more effectively than a mainstream outlet, which should affect which journalists you spend time on.

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