By Lisa Carter, Media Consultant
Editorial has free reign on being unbalanced, opinionated, and often times emotive, but news reporting is supposed to aim a little higher than that, and strive to standards of objectiveness, fairness and balance.
But as we’re all too aware (‘Kick this mob out’ ring any bells?), sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.
Journalists are a naturally inquisitive bunch. They’re intelligent, educated and worldly, and are exposed to a never-ending merry-go-round of different ideologies. So it’s inevitable they’re going to be an opinionated bunch as well.
Which is why, when a member of the bunch comes knocking on your door, it pays to be well-prepared.
The most important thing any interviewee must have is a clear, concise understanding of the organisation’s key messages, long before the interview begins. What are the facts, and how do you want to present them? Have you planned a few generic responses you can fall back on when the journalist tries to lead you away from your key messages? How do you stay on target when you’re nervous? And how will you respond if you’re thrown a curveball?
No matter what questions the journalist asks, no matter how ridiculous the allegations, the moment you’re drawn into a debate is the moment you lose control of the interview. And when dealing with a journalist who’s hell-bent on digging up a little dirt (any dirt will do!), it’s the moment it all goes pear-shaped, and you can guarantee it’s also the moment that blares across the evening news for all to see. After all, failure to plan is planning to fail.
In a recent case, one of our clients was contacted by a journalist who had been somewhat ill-informed on a particular topic by an opposing organisation (with a vested interest). Said journalist threw some rather unfair accusations, which were vehemently rebuffed. The organisation was able to prove the initial accusations incorrect, but rather than question the motives behind the other organisation’s allegations, the journalist decided to press on regardless. The journalist was then forced to try and find something else she deemed incriminating. Her mind was made up from the outset and she was going to ‘get the story’ no matter what defense the organisation was able to provide. She pursued both lines of questioning, and her eventual report hinted at some pretty damning allegations. Fortunately the organisation had prepared before the onslaught. The spokespeople remained calm under pressure, answered all questions confidently and assertively, and stuck to the cold, hard facts. Had they been drawn into a messy debate, become defensive, and gone on the counter-attack, the final report would have portrayed them in a much less favorable light.
This scenario is unfortunately unavoidable as journalists are only human, so while you may not be able to stop the story going to air, you can ensure your organisation minimises the damage by doing an interview with the utmost confidence, and staying right on track.
What a journalist does with that interview once you’ve finished is out of your hands, but in the end, they can only put on television or quote in an article the words you provide, so give them the answers you want to give and not the answers they want you to give.