By Lynn Walsh, RTDNA Blogger
We've all been there. Whether it is a simple question about employment or a response to a question that could cause problems for an elected official, sometimes, a return phone call is hard to get.
Nowadays, it seems everybody has a spokesperson or public relations representative you are told to go through. You would think this would make things easier for a journalist, in some cases it can, but in my experience it often lengthens the time period it takes to get answers.
So, what do you do when they don't respond? Here are some things I have tried and have found helpful.
1. Speak directly to the person involved. I try to be as respectful as possible when it comes to PR representatives and spokespeople. But, if they are not responding or are stalling, I call the person I need to talk with directly. Whether it is a school board member, a company employee or the mayor. If you are going to be naming them, I think the person deserve a chance to respond on their own even if a PR rep is supposed to be the point of contact.
2. Use social media. If several attempts to contact someone have failed, I look up their Twitter handle and find them in Facebook. This goes for an individual and a company. I say something like, "trying to get in touch with @company for story I am working on. No response in two days." You would be surprised how many times this works. Now, I only do this if other attempts at contacting them have failed.
3. Show up in person. If it's a government official, they will be out and about at public meetings or events. Try to grab them there. Even private companies have events that top officials attend. It's also ok to just stop by someone's office in person and ask to speak with them. Drop off printed questions, etc.
4. Use public records laws. This may not work in breaking news situations but if you have some time it can be a great solution. Think of what records or documents exist that could provide you with answers to your questions. Again, this may take time, but people cannot hide behind public information laws, they are required to release information, even if they don't want to.
5. Tell the public. If you have been calling and emailing and trying to get in touch with someone, tell your viewers. Show them that you have called and emailed all week. Tell the public what you are asking for, who you are calling and what if anything the response has been. It also can speed up the process.
6. Confront them. I think this should always be the last option. But, I also think it is necessary sometimes. Try to get them coming in or out of work, before or after lunch, etc. you can always go to their home too, but I would discuss this option carefully with your news team.
How do you get answers? Let me know on Twitter, @LWalsh.
Lynn Walsh is the investigative producer at WPTV, NewsChannel 5 in West Palm Beach, Florida. You can contact her at Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com.