In the rating of the least respected jobs, journalists generally come in right behind lawyer and actor. Reporters who have spent more than one month trying to cover stories will be acutely aware of this. Not because they look at Forbes magazine job ratings, but because they are used to encountering ire, resentment, frustration and ignorance. If you can avoid these phrases the next time you get a request for an interview, you will stand out from the crowd and increase your odds of becoming a go-to expert.
“When can I review the story?” It may seem like a service for you or your business, but news and feature stories are not produced for you. The reporter is there to serve readers. If they were to show you a story before it is published, they also put themselves in danger of showing bias. Their job is to pull back the curtain on a topic. They want to get it right and will work hard to do so. Let them do their job.
“The same talking point 4x” Media training can be a great asset. But, if you don’t practice it and own what you are saying, you sound like a person reading a script. Well. Because you are. Repeating the same information without further explaining yourself will make you sound uninformed. Practice those talking points. It is what you paid your PR firm to produce. Then you can sound like a human when you speak. You don’t want to sound like Allen Iverson:
“Ugh. Let me just give you the 101.” You are a content expert. A reporter is a storyteller. They should not know as much or more than you about the topic than you. If they did, they would not ask you. Essentially, don’t be a jerk. If a reporter seems uninformed about a topic, have patience. It is a great opportunity. Being condescending will not help you sound smarter. It makes you sound like an ass.
“No comment.” A few things are wrong with this. Mostly, it makes you look like a defensive adolescent. You likely have a comment. If you truly do not have much to say that directly answers the question, then reiterate what you do know or use it as an opportunity to shed some light on another topic. No-commenters are rarely characterized favorably in stories.
“This is off the record.” Ask yourself why you are going to say something that should be off the record. If you don’t want it printed or reproduced, don’t say it. If there is a recording device started or a pen in hand, then it is on the record. It is reportable. Also, saying “This is off the record” puts the reporter in an awkward position. He has to remember that you did not want that as part of the story. Also, because he is human, there are two possibilities: 1. He can forget that you did not want that information as part of the story. 2. He can’t unlearn what you told him. It will color what is produced.
What happens when you think your comments are off the record (this video has swears):
Here are a few other questions and the way in which reporters would answer them for you if they had no concern for being diplomatic:
Did you read my press release? No. I am talking to you. Tell me why I should care.
What is your deadline? Now. I am calling you because I need it. Now.
Didn’t you already ask that question? Yes. I did. So are you going to answer it this time?
Did you read my book? No. I didn’t. Tell me what it is about.
There are some no-brainers that I feel I need to include. I wish I didn’t have to, but since I still work as a journalist, I know I need to: racial slurs, remarks of a sexual nature, gossip that you really can’t substantiate, political rants* and bullying comments (toward the reporter or others).
*If you are being interviewed about politics, this is appropriate. But if it is about gift ideas for the office, then the fact that you believe the president is the antichrist is not appropriate. (This actually happened to me.)