Calling people at home for a story? You heathen!

March 24, 2011

A public relations person at a well known company told one of my reporter colleagues here that he was stalking board members of a company that he covers. Why? Because he called them at home, and had not told her before what story he was working on. He was supposed to obey company policy and go through her, not call people at home. She suggested that this was not only wrong, it was unethical.

Her email:

It has come to my attention that you are now calling our Board of Directors at home.  As I have said before, our process is that you need to submit your request for an interview through this office.  I have never had an issue before with a Reuters reporter – they have all shown a great level of professional courtesy while at the same time doing their jobs.

I cannot assist you with your story unless you let me know what it is about.  Please submit that as soon as possible.

Trouble is, he tried already to tell her. He left a message on her voicemail. Maybe she didn’t get the message. In any case, a reporter who asks only for the company’s comment, gets told that there won’t be one, and then stops reporting isn’t doing his job.

What struck me was her comment about never before having “issues” (problems) with a Reuters reporter. That must mean that we were not trying hard enough to break news. Well, we are now.

I understand that reporters often break big stories thanks to leaks that come to them, and through companies that decide that a certain reporter will get an exclusive. That’s fine. But trying to confirm a tip means knocking on doors, or calling telephones. And a standard part of that means calling people at home. If you can’t get them at work, and you don’t have a mobile phone number handy, home is the next best place to try.

People have screamed at me for daring to call them at home, but nobody until today has ever suggested to me or one of my colleagues that we are unethical because we try. If someone tells you to stop calling, perhaps you should consider not calling anymore. At least for a little while. But to say that calling people at home is unethical is something that would stop only the most timid reporter — and they are not the people I work with.

Comments

In a different vein, I was once threatened by a celebrity publicist with having stalking charges filed against me because I had called her 2x within 2 weeks, at her office, to inquire about having one of her low-brow, scandal-mongering clients on a TV show. You can only laugh at the ridiculousness. I applaud anyone who calls a person at home if you don’t get a timely or adequate reply from the flack, btw.

Posted by goldengirl | Report as abusive
 

I thought that from a legal perspective the board members remain personally involved whether they are asleep at home or working on the golf course. That’s the nature of board membership. They don’t represent the company, they represent the shareholders. So the reporter might have responded “this is not a question for the company, but for the company’s shareholders”.

Posted by nicfulton | Report as abusive
 

Please out this public relations person. I would also like to know the names of the Reuters reporters who were “professional” enough to only work through PR. Reuters has no room for these people.
Kenneth Li
Editor, Technology, Media, Telecoms
New York

Posted by kenli729 | Report as abusive
 

Lisa Marie Bongiovanni. Mattel.

Posted by bobbymacReuters | Report as abusive
 

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