A good friend of mine has been a freelance journalist for over 25 years. He’s seen little increase in the amount he makes per word or per article over all that time: what gains he has made have come through increased productivity. And if an idea is going to take too much work to develop into a story, he’ll go on to the next idea instead.
Don’t let it be your idea for a story that he passes over.
If you are pitching a newsmaker survey done by your organization or by one of your clients, make sure that you have answered all the most common questions a journalist would have about that research up front. That way they won’t need to call or email you to get details they consider important. Or worse—decide that’s too much trouble and move on to the next pitch.
Fortunately, it’s easy to know the survey methodology questions that reporters will want answered. Since 2007, the American Association of Public Opinion Researchers and the Poynter Institute have trained reporters to ask key questions about survey research results. And the National Council of Public Polls (NCPP) has published its own list of questions for journalists to ask about surveys, now on its third edition: 20 Questions A Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results.
Comparing the two documents shows the most common questions journalists are advised to ask about surveys:
- Who paid for the poll and why was it done?
- Who ran the poll?
- How many people were interviewed?
- How were those people chosen? (Probability or nonprobability sample?)
- What area or what group were people chosen from? (Adults, online consumers, marketing staff?)
- Are the results based on the answers of all the people interviewed?
- When were the interviews conducted?
- How were the interviews conducted?
- How was the poll conducted? (Online, by telephone, face-to-face?)
- What’s the margin of sampling error, if applicable?
- What questions were asked?
- What order were the questions asked in?
While most news releases include a paragraph about the survey methodology, in the interests of space such statements are often short and don’t always answer all the questions reporters are trained to ask. Make sure yours do.
In addition to providing a methodology statement that answers these questions, we always compile an appendix showing the order and wording for every reported question, along with the topline results for each.
The more survey methodology questions that you can answer in advance for journalists, the more likely they are to write about your survey rather than pass over it!