What do journalists think of HR people? I can tell you...

Being interviewed by an HR journalist is not like being interviewed by one from The Sun - so what is it like?

I spoke with several journalists in our market – from People Management, Personnel Today/Occupational Health, Employee Benefits Magazine, The HR Director and a freelancer or two – to find out their views on working with HR people.

So if you’re ever asked to be a case study or talk to a HR journalist about your specialist knowledge, consider it – and let their advice help you.

HR sector journalists are not looking for scandal

From my perspective, HR journalists are largely a really great, smart, collaborative bunch of people. And the paybacks of working with journalists can be great. (I’ll write another blog soon about why being interviewed by a journalist from an HR magazine is not like being interviewed by a journalist from The Sun. I’m not maligning the latter, it’s just different audiences want different things)

So, journalists who work for HR publications generally aren't trying to push bad news or create click-bait headlines – they support, understand, educate and promote the profession, they’re a part of it.  They appreciate hearing your views – whether it’s on recruitment and retention, or employee benefits and employee experience, diversity, legislation, health and wellbeing or artificial intelligence.

Certainly, HR and the workplace is a very newsworthy sector right now. Jason Spiller, editor of The HR Director, explained: “The most compelling aspect in the world of work right now is that practitioners are trying to get a grip on the unknown. In the past, governments, the establishment and employers controlled the rank and file. Now people and driving technology are being so disruptive, they are creating an environment that makes it impossible to plan for. That makes it very interesting from a journalistic point of view”.

So what do some of our journalists think about HR? And what’s their advice?

Robert Jeffery, editor, People Management:

“HR people are generally talkative, happy to help and have a good, rounded understanding of their organisations which helps them place their insights in context. They understand the need to demonstrate something worked with hard data – which means they don't make grandiose claims they can't back up. And they also understand how the right sort of publicity is good both for them and their organisations, which means for the most part they are amenable to being interviewed.

 The downside can be that they are more likely than other functions to be overly cautious about what's being written, and will often involve internal corporate comms departments unnecessarily. Most of the HR press isn't interested in being sensationalist because it doesn't help us in the long run to get the wrong sort of reputation with practitioners.”


Alison Coleman, freelancer for national and HR media:

 “On any topics around workplace, talent, engagement, recruitment,
reward and recognition and also to a degree business strategy, good HR interviewees are in the best position to provide salient comment.

 They are well informed and insightful, especially on the bigger picture, ie future of work, automation and its impact on the workforce, and are at the coalface of that other major business challenge, talent

In terms of what they could do better, to be honest my go to HR
contacts are doing a great job and I can't think of anything more than
what they are already doing.”

 Great advice for HR interviewees

Nic Paton, freelance editor for specialist publications (especially HR), had some great advice for interviewees. Encapsulating my theme, he said:

 ‘By and large, specialist journalists are not looking to screw you over – we’re often just looking for experts/expert comment, analysis, insight or soundbites to get us over the line with our deadline”.

 He said good interviewees:

  • Know what they’re talking about…

  • … but can also cut through and understand the questions/narrative I’m asking

  • Have thought about what they’re going to say and talk clearly. Journalists know a little about a lot and will often be working across multiple stories to tight deadlines and so they may not need chapter and verse detail and so a few interesting – almost bullet – observations can often go a long way.

  • Don’t just use platitudes (red, white and blue Brexit, anyone?) and/or impenetrable jargon

  • Don’t be robotic and bland as to be unusable. This is where being too media schooled can sometimes backfire.

  • Don’t place massive restrictions on what you can/can’t use, imposing circles of approval hell.

  • Don’t keep jumping on and off the record as you’ll just end up shooting yourself in the foot

 And he had some general tips:

  •  However technical the topic normally is, it always comes back to what this means to people – employees, employers, the general public etc – so even if it is, say, something dry like block chain if you bring it back to people, people, people the journalist will probably love you.

  • Anecdotes to illustrate your point can work well. “One employer I was working with….”. “The way we do it in our organisation is to…” etc

  • If you can provide an employer/employee case study (assuming one is needed) you’ll almost certainly make the cut as case studies are the bane of most journalists’ lives!


Katie Scott, reporter at Employee Benefits Magazine, summed up encouragingly:

 “I like interviewing HR professionals because they are so passionate about what they do; they really value being able to have an impact to help both employees and the business in a myriad of ways. They do genuinely care and are typically always thinking of what they can do or contribute to that will help the organisation’s employees. It’s great being a part of that by helping to showcase the good work that they are doing in their day-to-day roles and the results they are having.

 I’d also say that sometimes there’s a lot of red tape and interviews having to be checked by what feels like a gazillion people before you actually interview anyone. I sometimes think organisations are very suspicious of journalists, which is a real shame. It’s pesky in particular when you have something arranged for a while that gets cancelled at the last minute as the last layer of approval says no at the last minute.”


So if you have the opportunity to talk to an HR journalist about your work or knowledge, and you’re not sure, feel free to get in touch with me for some pointers.

 Always, always happy to help.

Kay Phelps