I spent two years covering the historic Prettyman courthouse where Donald Trump was arraigned Thursday, and my experience there offered a case study in media relations.
My assignments there came when I took a break from the hectic pace of reporting on presidential politics to start a family. And the two beats could not have been more different.
While covering politics, I felt like I was constantly being spun with shaded facts and in a constant struggle for access. At the courthouse, my sources were most interested in making sure I was getting the story right and had an open door policy.
It’s a rule of thumb for dealing with reporters: Make yourself a resource of reliable, accurate information. Not only will you be helping the cause of journalism, but it will ultimately pay off by making you an influential and trusted resource to the media.
Most of the people who were influencing what I wrote were never quoted in my stories – or if they were, it was from the official court proceedings and not often the much more helpful background conversations we were having.
It was judges who would make sure I understood their ruling’s legal context. It was Justice Department officials who would point me to interesting cases on the docket. It was defense attorneys who would help me find the most important filings in a voluminous case record. It was court staffers who tipped me off to an upcoming hearing where news would be made.
Be that kind of source if you want to shape the news.
And finally, if your organization is ever in litigation, ensure you have someone on the team who knows how to whisper in a reporter’s ear. Your opponents likely do.