Last week I shared eight “Dos” when preparing and conduction media interviews. This week , let’s flip the coin over and give the “Donts” some attention.
This is information that comes from NACo’s publication, NACo Media Relations: A Guide for Counties.
Media Interview Donts
Don’t lie, cover-up, or distort the truth: This is fundamental to not just media interviews but life in general. I probably don’t need to convince anyone of the virtues of honesty – and it goes hand-in-hand with distortions and cover-ups. Along with the ethics behind this principle, we are all very familiar with examples of those who sought to do so, and the consequences that followed.
Don’t lecture, debate, or argue with a reporter: Though it has never been given official attribution (some say Mark Twain), someone once said, “I never argue with a man who buys his ink by the barrel.” The sentiment is that there’s an inherent imbalance of power between reporter and elected official – one communicates to a very large and diverse base of citizens, the other a more narrow group (sometimes just followers). Each situation is different, and certainly the Internet has changed the game, but civility and rational conversations should always be result. You will never win a debate or argument with a reporter, and the last thing they will appreciate is a lecture. Approach it differently. It’s okay to disagree but do it professionally. Even if you are being antagonized, take the high road.
Don’t guess or speculate: It’s perfectly legitimate to tell a reporter you don’t know the answer to a question they ask. If you get asked to guess or speculate you set yourself up for being wrong, which can sometimes be harmless but at other times quite damaging to you personally and who you represent.
Don’t question a reporter’s motives behind a question: It’s temping to call a reporter out, knowing they already know what your response will be and are hoping it adds some interest to the story. But just like lecturing, reporters are not going be favorable to you even if you are right in their intent. It’s best to simply respond and move on.
Don’t talk too much: Even the longest of stories have very little time or space for quotes and soundbites. Prepare ahead of time for the interview by truncating your thoughts so that you give reporters something they can use, AND so that you increase the odds your message will be memorable with citizens.
Don’t say “no comment”: The phrase “no comment” has a bad connotation, and will assign blame or guilt to you every time. There are 101 other things you can say without saying anything that will do a far better job of diffusing or softening your public response. That will force most viewers and readers to suspend judgement, and give you the benefit of the doubt.
Don’t speak off the record: You are ALWAYS on the record. You can’t assume otherwise. This isn’t meant to create distrust between you and the reporter, but they have a job to do and media interviews are business transaction of information. You have to be on your game and stick to your plan of what you say and how you say it.
Don’t allow the interview to go beyond the agreed to boundaries: Always ask about the nature of the questions and then follow up by asking if they will be asking anything else beyond that. Reporters strive for integrity. Some are unethical and have malicious intent, no question. But most are respectful and want to have a positive working relationship with those they interview. But talk about interview parameters ahead of time (topics, length of time, location, etc.). Then stick to them and help the reporter stick to them. Giving them access is important but they understand there are natural limitations and that will help them and you to prepare and focus more to make the interview productive.