What Not To Say To A Journalist

Now that everyone has a blog and two podcasts, you don't have to be a rarified expert to field questions from a journalist, or to appear as a guest on a show. Talking to the media can be exciting but terrifying. What if they misquote you? What if they secretly want to do a hit piece on you? What if you're so boring that they cancel the show forever?

Photo via Minister-president Rutte

In the lengthy media-training article "Be Our Guest!" Paul Ford, writer and founder of the digital media studio Postlight, explains how to deal with all kinds of media appearances and interviews. His main message: Most of this won't affect your life one way or the other. "Nothing matters, and nothing works." And: "All journalism is just awkward as hell. If the journalism feels awkward it is going well."

That doesn't mean there's no way to screw it up. Ford points out a few big don'ts that could ruin your media appearance:

  • Don't bring up payment. Unless you're writing something under your own byline, you should only participate in a media inquiry if you're fine with not getting paid. "Asking will make everyone really nervous about you," says Ford.
  • Don't talk out of your arse. Don't go on about an issue you're not actually an expert in, and try to connect the journalist with someone who actually knows - and who would be interested in spending their time on this.
  • Don't ask for positive coverage. Whether or not it should be, most coverage of the average person is positive. Asking for a guarantee is like asking, "Is this date going well?" The journalist will feel like you're pressuring them, or expect them to be your free PR department. (This includes asking to review the finished piece before it goes out.)
  • Don't lie. Many journalists can remember the first time a source lied to them, and we hate that source forever.

Ford's piece has a lot of good news, too! But it's those don'ts that will sink you. If you avoid a big mistake, most appearances in media will help you out, if only by establishing your reputation for the next time you need a new job or a promotion. And if you're really terrified that you'll ruin your career by saying something dumb on camera, you probably won't miss too much by continuing to toil in obscurity.

Be Our Guest! [Track Changes]


Comments

    There is no such thing as 'off the record'. That journo has a notepad, a digital recorder, a phone and a memory. Speak as if they are always on.

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