Tips for news reporters: When your only option is leaving a voicemail

Heather Poltrock

Sometimes I have to ask uncomfortable questions: The employment status of an employee accused of sexual assault, confirming vague details about possible breaking news viewer tips, the reason behind a mistake made by a public official…

It’s the nature of the job. And of course, in news, the goal is to get the most information available in the quickest amount of time. If there is one thing I’ve learned in my more than 10 years in news, it is that you have to be very clear about the information you need.

You’ve heard it, you may have said it with a groan, “I had to leave a voicemail.”

So, if you are only given the option to leave a voicemail, make it the most detailed message possible.

Here’s what I mean—

WRONG: This is Heather from NewsChannel 7. Can you give me a call back?

I think sometimes reporters hope that by leaving a nonconfrontational message, they’ll get a call back right away.  Nope. That will never be the case. They already know why you are calling.

BETTER: This is Heather from Channel 7. Can you give me a call back regarding the employment status of Sue Smith? What was her current role? Can you share when she began her career with _____ and if there is an upcoming meeting to discuss her employment or any matter related to this case? If easier, you may also respond by email. My email address is….

I’m telling you—by dropping your email as a return form of communication they WILL get back to you. And now you have everything in written form. Plus, if they didn’t answer one of your questions, you can fire off another quick email.

Heather Poltrock
WSAW-TV, Wausau