Why I’m No Longer Helping Reporters Out

Being listed as an anonymous contributor to an article just doesn't sit well with me.
May | 31 | 2010

May | 31 | 2010

After the publication of my second book this past spring, The Next Wave of Technologies, I began subscribing to Help a Reporter Out. I figured that additional exposure gained by talking to reporters would help me do the following:

  • Sell more books
  • Make more money
  • Become a rock star
  • Retire by 40 to some exotic island

All kidding aside, I knew that my publishers weren’t exactly going devote a team of people and considerable funds to the promotion of my books–a subject about which I’ve ranted before. Today, all publishing is self-publishing. Translation: If I wanted to get the word out I would have to do all of the legwork on my own. To this end, HARO seemed like a good idea.

HARO: The Basics

For those of you not familiar with HARO, let me explain the process very simply:

  • Interested parties sign up for different newsletters.
  • Newsletters arrive with media inquiries–e.g., “Looking for social media expert or author.”
  • Ostensibly qualified person responds to reporter via email.
  • If interested, reporter responds to inquirer.
  • Conversation or email exchange takes place.
  • Reporter/freelance writer obtains valuable expertise and advice gratis in exchange for potential future media exposure or attribution.

So, why, after two months of diligently responding to nearly 20 inquiries for which I was qualified to comment, am I off HARO? Three reasons.

General Principle

First, I value my time. On several occasions, I spent more than 30 minutes speaking with reporters, providing valuable information to them. Now, could they have obtained much of this insight via the web? Of course. I’ll be the first to admit that I am not the definitive source on all things technology. Still, I was essentially helping them write their pieces (for which they were paid) faster than they would otherwise be able to do.

In each case, either the reporter/writer or his/her editor in question decided not to reference me. Of course, the crux of my conversations remained in the articles. In short, I was an unnamed contributor to the piece and that just doesn’t sit well with me.

Ethics, Fairness, and Consideration

Let’s say that I were fine with not making the final cut. In each case, the reporter didn’t see fit to tell me that my contribution was not referenced in the ultimate piece. Call me idealistic, but if you spend 30 minutes speaking with someone and that input is removed, it’s just common courtesy to let that person know. No one should have to find out about this upon publication.

Reporters might contend that you speak with so many people that it’s impossible to let everyone know about final decisions made by editors. I don’t buy it. I’m not talking about sending a bouquet of flowers and an apology card. Keep a list of people with whom you spoke and, if some are cut, then send an quick email. A little consideration goes a long way. If you reporters are too busy, then so am I.

Supply and Demand

Finally, for every media inquiry about the most esoteric of subjects, I’d wager that there are hundreds of responses. Even “looking for Metallica fans who’ve attended last year’s US Open” will likely get many responses. This is the long tail in action. It just doesn’t make sense to spend the time responding with such a lower probability of making the cut. Of course, if reporters contact me with genuine interest, then I’ll happily chat with them.

Simon Says

Look, if a reporter seeks me out, I’ll obviously listen. I’m still part media whore and silly is the author, speaker, business owner, etc. who ignores free publicity. But it seems equally foolish for me to continue to help out when the web is the ultimate DIY tool. I’m reminded of Charlie Sheen’s great quote in Wall Street, “Will you do your own homework, Marv?”

What do you think?

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1 Comment

  1. Jill Wanless

    Go Phil! This happens to me all the time too!
    Well ok, I’m not a social media expert, writer or author, but I do have some insight in my job and people will call, email or meet with me to pick my brain. Needless to say their note, document, report or business case does not reference my contribution in any way, shape or form. #thingsthatmakememad !
    A simple thank you goes a long way.  🙂


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