Organizations love the media when they want to promote an upcoming community event; but one thing I’ve noticed working in the news industry (and working with local government officials) is that some public sector workers are petrified of the media in those not-so-nice situations.
Maybe it’s because they’ve watched too much Nancy Grace. Or maybe they were victims of a sensational local reporter who turned a fire drill into an all-out public panic. Unfortunately, there are these types of extremists in the news industry; but for the most part, the media has the same purpose as you—serving the public.
The secret to having a healthy relationship with the media is to think of them as acquaintances—not best friends, not enemies—acquaintances. Think about how you treat acquaintances. You are cordial to them, yet still cautious to reveal your whole life story to them.
Keeping that in mind and remembering these main pointers will help you avoid a bad media encounter.
- Know what you’re talking about.
This should go without saying. Be knowledgeable about the topic at hand and be prepared for any tough questions that may arise from it.
- Don’t start rambling.
Stay on topic at all times and don’t go off on tangents. The bait used for this is “the long pause”, where the interviewer just stares and nods at you in silence (if it’s a face-to-face interview) to make you uncomfortable and start speaking. Don’t fall for it.
- “No comment” makes your organization look guilty.
It’s generally not a good idea to answer, “No comment” to a reporter. Not responding to allegations allows the reporter to control and run with the story. If you cannot disclose details of the matter, explain that an investigation is ongoing and more details will be released once they become available.
- Stay calm.
Losing your cool can change a reporter’s “non-story” into the top story. No matter how frustrating the interviewer is being, keep your composure and stick to the facts.
- Assume there is no such thing as “off the record”.
Just because you say “off the record” before making a statement doesn’t mean that the reporter can’t use that information. The reporter has to mutually agree that what you disclose will not be used in the report. Even then, it’s only up to the reporter’s ethics to keep his/her word.
How do you deal with the media and what else would you add to this list?