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What NOT to Say to a Reporter Before + During a Media Interview

public relations Oct 19, 2020

Agreeing to an interview with a reporter can be nerve wracking but also exciting! Here are some pro-tips on what not to say to the media -- before and during your interview. Some of this might not immediately occur to you as off-putting, so be mindful, use common sense and do your best to avoid the following statements/questions.

1. “Can you send me the article before you publish it?”

  • This is arguably the question that journalists’ hate most. In the U.S., freedom of speech and expression is something we pride ourselves on and journalistic integrity is a real thing. Remember you are not paying for this article, this is not advertising or marketing. By asking this question, it portrays a lack of trust and although you can control what you say to a journalist, you cannot ultimately expect to have any control what they do with those words (unless you note something is off the record, below).

2. “No comment”

  • You hear this all the time, but it is actually not a favorable term to use. Often times uttering those words is associated with admitting guilt or to wavering. If you don’t wish to speak on a specific topic, there are easier and better ways to decline. Explain why you cannot answer the question (i.e., confidentiality, prematurity, privacy, litigation concerns or disclosure regulations). You can also say you are not the appropriate person to answer the question but will introduce them to the right person. You can also simply state that you don’t know the answer -- that is perfectly reasonable.

3. “Don't quote me on that"

  • This is a tricky one because you can certainly speak to things you don’t want quoted, you just need to go about it the right way. Always assume the interview is “on the record,” meaning the reporter can print everything you say unless otherwise specified from the outset. For example, you can ask, “Can we go off the record?” But you cannot say something then try to take it back. Those aren’t the rules. It’s better to state it at the beginning.

4. “Can I see the questions in advance?"

  • This is a question for before the media interview. The answer from journalists’ is almost always ‘no.’ In some cases they may let you know roughly what the theme or first question is likely to be, but that’s it. It is reasonable for you to have an understanding of their angle and approach. They want authenticity. Focus on your messaging, your value proposition and stick to it - you won’t have a problem.

5. Never lie, expand the truth or provide your personal opinion

  • Remember, journalists are essentially professional investigators. They are constantly fact and source checking and will know if you expand on the truth. Most journalists will never engage again with a source that has lied to them. On the flip side, don’t expand on or try to talk about something you are unsure of. If the reporter covers the industry, they will know you are bluffing. In regards to personal opinion, unless it is aligned with your brand or the brand you are representing, leave it out. You run the risk of it getting published and regardless of how tame it may be, remember you are representing something larger than yourself -- or a client!
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