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Mind your p’s and q’s

April 17th, 2005

Dr Petra

In the past month I’ve done a little study. Not a particularly scientific one. I simply made a note each time a journalist called, noting what they said. In the hundred odd calls and emails I’ve received, nearly all told me their name, and most what they were writing about. However, plenty didn’t tell me who they were working/writing for, or the angle of their piece – that I had to ask for.

Most interestingly very few of them remembered their p’s and q’s. Of the hundred who approached me, I was only able to help out about a third (the rest wanted me to talk about things that weren’t ethical, evidence based or in my area of expertise). Of those I did talk to, only two of them said ‘thank you’.

People think experts get paid to provide quotes (we usually don’t), that we get freebies from the media (we definitely don’t – not even copies of the magazines or papers we’ve provided quotes for – although you’re often told one will be sent). We often don’t even get a ‘please could you help me’ or ‘thank you for your time’.

Within academic research, the idea of being polite to people you work with – participants and colleagues – is drummed into you from the start of your career. If you’re not super-polite, people won’t work with you – and why should they?

So it kind of jars when others we work with don’t treat us in a similar way.

I’m not blaming journalists here. I think there are very good reasons why this happens.

From celebrities to (some) experts, most only talk to the press because they have a movie/book/record/product to push. Nothing comes for free, and so for that group, it is in their interest to link up with the press. An interview on television, radio, or print media is a great form of free advertising.

It explains why some journalists forget to say ‘thanks’ – after all, most of the time they’re doing their interviewee the favour. It’s the interviewee who ought to be thanking them.

The problem is that not everyone is talking to the press because they have a product to flog. Even if they might want a mention of their book or website, they may also be talking to journalists because they want to help others, raise awareness, or increase their research profile.

Yes, probably the majority of interviewees you talk to will have some kind of hidden (or not so hidden) agenda. But sometimes that agenda is to help others, to get information out there that could save lives – or at least improve them. And that does deserve a ‘thank you’.

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