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Tips for Dealing with Difficult Reporters and Sticky Situations

Note: This is a continuation of a series on media relations. To start from the beginning, go here

We get it: sometimes things do not go as planned when working with the media. Here are some simple tips for dealing with difficult reporters and challenging situations.

Angry reporters

In some cases, reporters may get angry when they don’t get when they want from you. If you have been responsive and aren’t hiding anything then it is their problem, not yours.  Keep your cool, and don’t get rattled.  Don’t get into it any further with an angry reporter. Try to say something like:

“Look, Steve, I’m providing you with the best information I can.  I want to be helpful to you and your readers, but I just can’t provide you with any additional information on this issue.”

Long pauses

One technique that reporters, especially radio reporters, use is long pauses.  Understand that this is usually just as much for technical reasons as journalistic ones.  Don’t let pauses encourage you to continue talking. Just say what you want to say and no more.

When you are done, count to five very slowly.  If they are being obnoxious by still waiting for your response say, “Are you still there?”  If the interview is in-person ask, “Anything else?”

Terrible reporting, errors, and serious issues

As I suggested earlier, you have an obligation to your district and community to ensure that your news is reported properly.  If it is not, it is often best to send an email or call the reporter and explain where the error occurred. Most often a correction will be made and the mistake will not be repeated.

In some cases, the issues are more egregious.  I recently learned of a situation where a superintendent’s salary was reported in the newspaper. The problem was that the salary and benefits were combined and reported together as salary, and then compared with the salaries of neighboring superintendents.

In most serious cases, you can ask for a front page correction. The most important thing is to make sure that community members receive the real story.  If that means sending a note home with parents (this is a real black eye for a local newspaper), then so be it.

If a situation is ongoing, ask to meet with the editor.  Most editors are pretty reasonable people.  Stress the fact that you simply want community members to get accurate information.

That’s all for today. Tune in tomorrow for the next post in this series.

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