Media Myths That Can Get You in Trouble
by Ross Goldberg
Cooperating with the media and working with reporters to help get a story told is one of the most important things any company can do. But many myths persist about how to foster media relationships and what you can and can’t expect when the questions are flying or the cameras are rolling.
Here are 10 myths that you must shatter to be successful when being interviewed.
The reporter is my friend. Reporters have a job to do—report. If a reporter treated you favorably in the past, that doesn’t make the reporter a friend or guarantee a positive story. Their jobs come first, just as yours should.
The media is out to get me. Occasionally, yes, but usually no. What most reporters and editors want is simply a good story. If you bring a confrontational or negative attitude to an interview, it will have a harmful impact on the story. Better to be upbeat, positive, and courteous.
We can talk off the record. The words “off the record”—just like the words “no comment”—should be stricken from your vocabulary. Some reporters consider “off the record” as simply not for attribution, which is by no means the same thing as not for publication.
It is fine to withhold some information. Hiding information jeopardizes a professional relationship and can destroy trust not only with the media but with your customers and employees. Today’s world demands and expects transparency.
I have to give another (better) answer. A reporter may come back to a sensitive topic several times. When that happens, you should not feel the need to come up with a “better” answer than the one you’ve already given. If you’ve made your point in a concise and understandable way, stick to your original response and then stop talking. The more you add or rephrase, the better the chances that you will say something you didn’t want to say.
I can’t have notes in front of me. Of course you can. The reporter will. Besides, having notes with facts, examples, anecdotes, or supporting background materials will help make your comments more robust and authoritative. That will lead to a better story and benefit everyone.
Body language matters only in TV interviews. Print and online reporters quickly pick up on nervousness or any signs that indicate you may be holding back or equivocating. If you’re face to face with a reporter, look the reporter in the eye, smile, and keep your energy level high. Don’t underestimate the power of facial gestures, a confident nod of the head, and other nonverbal kinds of communications.
I have to answer every question. Only you retain ultimate control over what you do and don’t say. The reporter is free to ask, and you are free not to answer. If you don’t like a question, redirect it to make sure you get your points across.
If a reporter comes up with a fact, it must be right. Not necessarily. If you don’t think a reporter’s statement is correct, don’t accept it. Reporters can’t possibly know all the facts, and more often than not you are the expert. It is okay to challenge false or unsupported information, bearing Ben Franklin’s advice in mind: “Don’t get into an argument with someone who buys ink by the barrel.”
Once the reporter’s notebook is closed, the interview is over. It’s never over until the reporter is out of the building, out of hearing range, and out of sight.
Ideally, anyone speaking with media on behalf of your company and/or your books should attend a practical media-training program to learn and begin to perfect interview skills. Debunking these 10 myths is a good place to start and will provide solid footing for establishing the kind of media program that will serve you well.
Ross Goldberg is president of Kevin/Ross Public Relations, a full-service award-winning agency that assists clients with image management, branding, media relations, social media, collateral material development, issues management, direct mail, and employee communications, among other things. To learn more, visit kevinross.net.