How to Respond to a Reporter Query

Finding subject matter experts can be a challenge for journalists working on tight deadlines and multiple stories. When a reporter needs an expert for a quote or background material they may tweet a request for such an expert or use a resource such as HARO or ProfNet.

Journalists list what they are seeking and by when. The information is shared with those who subscribe.

If you are an expert or the public relations practitioner pitching an expert what’s the best way to respond to such queries?

Confirm availability. Your expert likely needs a bit of time to write her response to the reporter’s query. That’s fine. But do let the reporter know you have an expert available along with her credentials. The reporter then knows to expect a response, and may provide additional questions.

Keep it short and direct. Provide a few sentences outlining what the expert will share. Then include the expert’s credentials and contact details for the expert and yourself as you will likely serve as the facilitator. Stay on topic. Don’t try to pitch a different story.

Be specific in the subject line. Reporters often work on multiple stories. Let the reporter know you are responding to her query and which one.

Explain the fit. Experts abound so explain what makes your expert the right fit for this story. Provide the information the reporter seeks. If you can’t do that, don’t waste the reporter’s time.

Provide the materials. Your expert should provide a succinct response written in simple language. This is typically three to five sentences. Send the material along with the expert’s availability and contact details.

Track the reporter and publication. Some reporters will reach out and do a more in-depth interview. Others will at least acknowledge receipt of the information. From some you will hear nothing. It will be your responsibility to find the story placement. If you don’t use a media tracking service, it’s often easiest to Google the reporter and find the story that way.

3 thoughts on “How to Respond to a Reporter Query

  1. Thanks for this, Cynthia.

    Getting SMEs to respond in “simple language” is especially a challenge when working with academicians who are too smart for their own good, isn’t it? When asked to break down a concept, experts often struggle with words, but this is a great exercise for them, pedagogically speaking.

    Case in point: I read the recent Style Weekly interview with VCU School of the Arts’ Dean Brixey, and I got lost in his description of a special neurological art project he’d done at MIT (see link below). I wondered if the interviewer felt confused, too, because the follow-up question was, “So, what interested you about the VCU job?”

    The project sounded fascinating, but either the explanation was too complex, or I am just too slow-witted to understand. Simple language for us laypeople, please. I’ll be the first to advocate for that!

    • Yes, simple language is always best. When I’m editing a story, if I don’t understand it, I send the writer back to either revise it or to conduct another interview until they can explain so the rest of us get it. It’s definitely a challenge.

  2. Jett, Catherine (Cathy) says:

    Good advice, Cynthia. A personal touch can work as well.
    Mike Zitz, who used to work here at The Free Lance-Star, recently forwarded an email he got from a Germanna Community College professor about the slave auction block in downtown Fredericksburg. Mike now works for Germanna, and knew that I’d be writing another article about the controversy over the block. I got him to put me in touch with the professor, who gave me some good information for the my story. ( It ran recently in the Times –Dispatch.)
    Mike got Germanna in the news and I got an additional source for the story. It was a win-win.
    Cathy Jett

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