Most reporters aren’t out to get you.
But because there are always a few who try to get you to say something you’ll later regret, this lesson will help you survive your interactions with three of the most dangerous types of reporters.
1. The Quiet Type
Have you ever been in a conversation with someone who just keeps looking at you when you’ve finished talking? If you’re like most people, you feel awkward and quickly start talking again to fill the uncomfortable silence.
Reporters bank on that awkward dynamic and know you’ll say the most damaging things after you’ve finished your “official” answer. Instead of falling into this trap, just remain quiet after your official answer, or say something like: “That’s the main point. What other questions can I answer for you?”
2. The Jerk
I regularly had to deal with one very nasty reporter from a major wire service on behalf of one of my clients. He relished asking aggressive questions in the most hostile way possible, and I found it tough not to react defensively.
I learned to ignore his tone and rewrite his question in my mind, a good technique if you find yourself in a similar situation.
For example, if he asked: “Your group hasn’t accomplished anything. When will you stop wasting people’s money and give up already?”
In my mind, I would rewrite the question to something less hostile, such as: “Can you tell me about your accomplishments?
Then, I would calmly respond: “I disagree with your question’s premise, and I am happy to share a few of our accomplishments with you. First, we recently….”
3. The Friendly Guy At The Bar
During one dinner with a female friend, she looked over toward the bar and groaned. She told me that a man had just started hitting on a woman sitting alone—but in the way that makes women cringe. She said that women all know “that guy.”
He’s the man at the bar who approaches a female stranger and begins to chat her up. He thinks he’s being slick, but the woman can instinctively sense his ulterior motives.
Still, he persists. He agrees a little too easily with everything she says and laughs a little too loudly at her jokes. He’s waiting for that moment when (he hopes) she agrees to go home with him.
Some reporters have something in common with that guy: They’ll say anything to get what they want. Sometimes, that means they’ll try to coax something out of you that you’ll later regret saying.
The “friendly” reporter aims to make you feel comfortable so you begin speaking freely. But when the story runs, you’re devastated to find that he abused your trust by printing some of your most damning statements. But he didn’t abuse your trust. His loyalty was always to the story, not to you.
Never confuse the genuine kindness of a reporter for that of a friend. Be friendly, be warm, be outgoing—but never tell him things you might later regret.
Brad Phillips is the author of the Mr. Media Training Blog, where a version of this story first appeared. His firm, Phillips Media Relations, specializes in media and presentation training. This story ran on PR Daily in July 2011.