want fair media coverage? here are six things to avoid when a reporter calls
by: Leigh Carter, Senior Communications Advisor
Media coverage can be exactly what your organization, product, idea or point of view needs to reach a wide audience – but media coverage can also fill people with dread. Most people aren’t used to talking to reporters regularly, and for many, when a reporter calls it’s about an issue or situation that’s less than ideal. What often happens in situations like this? Well, people panic of course, and panic causes us to do things that may seem like a good idea at the time but only set us back.
Are you prone to panic when media calls come in? Reduce the stress by building a toolkit of resources so you’re prepared whenever that phone pings. Here’s a handy list of six things NOT to do when you’re dealing with a journalist, to get your toolkit started.
1. Fail to return the call (or email, or text)
If you don’t tell your story, they’ll go without you. The void could result in inaccurate information being published, or only the opposing side of the issue being heard.
Sounds obvious, but too often people say things to a reporter that aren’t true, or are only partly true, because it sounds better. The real story will always come out, and when you’re trying to explain – after the fact – what you should have said, no one will listen and, if they do, no one will believe you.
3. Forget their deadlines
The difference between 2:55 and 3:05 to you is just 10 minutes; to a reporter it could mean that the 3 p.m. news, for which they wanted your story, is done. Old news is no news.
4. Say “no comment”
If you don’t know the answer to something, say so. If you can get the answer, say that, and then do it – quickly. If legal issues prevent a response, say that. If you respond with “no comment” it sounds like you know the answer and could tell the public, but just don’t want to.
5. Give information that’s “off the record”
Generally, there’s no such thing, and if a piece of information for a story is just too good, the reporter will probably use it. Especially if you haven’t spent any time establishing a rapport with the reporter. If you don’t want it reported, don’t say it.
6. Ask to see the story before it’s written (or broadcast)
Sometimes a reporter might offer to send you the story – or part of it – if it’s complex or highly technical, to make sure they have the content right; if they do, that’s a bonus, and then you would provide accuracy – not slant.
Want to read a bit more about effectively working with the media? Here’s a good piece on how to work with media in a crisis situation. And a “crisis situation” can happen to any organization of any size, anywhere. The world is a small place these days.
What do you ZINC about handling calls from the media? Send us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts.