Every reader has a wish …some want to meet a particular author, some want to embrace a signed first edition of a certain title, and some, like me, want the opportunity to interview favorite characters.

Jen and Brad

I’m thrilled to share the first in what I hope begins a series of interviews with characters. I can’t thank Jen Forbus enough for facilitating this, and Brad Parks for convincing Carter to answer my questions.

I was destined to like Carter Ross. He’s a reporter. I’m genetically predisposed to respect reporters because my mom was one. When I fell into public relations oh those many moons ago, I quickly realized that I was meant to work near media. Carter is an investigative reporter, and so he also belongs to my favorite category of characters: amateur sleuths.

While this interview is with the fictional Carter Ross, he is the brainchild of the quite real and award winning journalist and author Brad Parks. So as enjoyable as the latest Carter take, EYES OF THE INNOCENT is as fiction, I’ve also recommended it to PR newbies as an instruction manual, a means to peer into the newsroom.

Carter is also in the Sweet 16 of the World’s Favorite Amateur Sleuth Competition. He’s up against Amanda Pepper in match-up #5 this week, and I would be most grateful if you’d click over and give him a vote. I’m also pulling for Nancy Drew.

Carter was kind enough to answer 10 questions for me, and the first 5 are below. I’ll post the remaining 5 as soon as we’re into the Elite Eight in the aforementioned competition. In addition to being wildly entertaining, the below is precisely instructional for PR folk and journalists alike. And the answer to question 5 applies to us all!

So without further ado…

You’re obviously fond of New Jersey. So do you adore Bruce Springsteen? 

Sure I love Jersey. But not everyone from Jersey adores Springsteen, anymore than everyone from Michigan adores Kid Rock. (Mind you, I would never compare Springsteen to Kid Rock in the paper. I like the people in our mail room too much to deluge them with that much hate mail).

As an investigative journalist, do you still get pitches from PR people? (I’m assuming the answer is yes…) Do you have a typical response to them?

I would give you an example of my typical response, except this space would be blank. Oh, and let’s just get another thing out of the way: No, I didn’t read your press release; no, I don’t plan to; no, I haven’t done a story off a press release in at least a decade, and even then it was at a much smaller daily and I was under considerable duress. 

All that said, I have been known to take stories from flaks. It’s usually because they have slipped so far beneath my considerable defenses that I don’t think of them as flaks anymore. How? Because they’ve helped me on stories in the past, and therefore I think of them as friends. It’s all about the relationship. 

How do you build a rapport like that from scratch? Easy. Read the paper, pay attention to bylines, and – this is the most important thing – know what a story is. If you’ve got an angle that relates to or expands on something I’ve already written, pitch it to me (and me alone) and I just might write it. Bear in mind, that first story is going to be all about my needs. The second story, too. But maybe if we’ve built a positive relationship based on a few stories – and maybe if you’ve helped me out in a pinch, like when I needed a talking head on tight deadline and you delivered one to me – I’ll feel like I owe you one. Then we can talk about your needs.

Have you ever run into a story subject or source who has been impossible to crack and/or dishonest?

A source lie to a reporter? Why… that’s almost like a PR person lying to reporter, and we all know that never happens. 

Sorry, I had to leave those three carriage returns to give myself time to stop snickering. I remember getting a call from a flak once – I won’t mention her name, but it wasn’t Erin Mitchell – and she said something like, “When have I ever lied to you?” To which I responded: “When have you ever not lied?” (She’s someone I only talk to when I am absolutely required, by standards of journalistic fairness, to do so). I swear, sometimes the only difference between reporters and septic system pumpers is that we deal with more crap.

What’s one of your “desert island” fiction books?

Why, Fletch, of course.

What’s your single best piece of advice for aspiring journalists out there?

Don’t be afraid to write with authority. Too many kids come out of journalism school having been drilled endlessly about balance and turn every article into a game of he-said-she-said ping pong. Don’t get me wrong, you need to check your ideology at the door when you get into this business – there’s no place for agendas if you’re going to be a real journalist. But after you’ve done that? Make an honest and determined effort at finding the truth, and then write it as clearly as you can. Oh, and if you don’t know what “write with authority” means? Go back to your J-school and demand your money back.

Remember, go here and vote for Carter, and I’ll have Part 2 of the interview for you next week!