"Hello, I'm a journalist fr- hello. Hello?"
Calling strangers is strange. No right-thinking person enjoys that. But it's a big part of the journalist's job. You might think in the year 2017 we can simply hop on the information superhighway and send an electronic-mail to someone you want to speak to. You don't have to call up a stranger, they can reply to your questions in a convenient manner and you get all your quotes typed out for you. But that's not good enough.
Speaking to someone on the phone gives you so much more. Most obviously it's a live conversation, so you can figure out what a person wants to talk about and what they don't and direct the conversation for the best outcome. Also, as you talk on, people start to go off on tangents. Sometimes it's waffle, but sometimes it's revealing, and you become aware of areas of your story you didn't know existed. There is also the the fact that you can make a better connection, so you have a more reliable contact for the future.
Of course it's not always that easy. Some people aren't interested to talk, some people get a bit freaked out speaking to a journalist and some people are just busy. But either way, you need to make those calls, so here are some tips for anyone feeling weird about it:
1. Get clear about how you're going to present yourself and why you're calling before you call. But don't over think it.
2. Do your best to be/come across as relaxed and interested. No one wants to talk to someone who clearly doesn't want to talk.
3. Don't let PAs and press officers brush you off. Be insistent.
4. If someone is rude to you, don't take it personally (oh, and make sure your phone is hung up before you bad mouth them).
5. People might be cagey or simply not have the information or views you hoped they would. Don't worry, just find someone else who might and call them. Don't get discouraged.
And remember, have fun. You chose this 😃