What’s Professional: How to Deal with Difficult Reporters

| Taproot Creative | Written by: Sandi Poreda

For a public relations professional, the key to developing good relationships with members of the media is maintaining professionalism and expecting the same in return. Unfortunately, as deadlines get shorter and newsrooms shrink, sometimes professionalism is de-prioritized. A hard-hitting interview or negative coverage may leave you feeling like a victim – a little unsure about how to respond and what’s considered fair game. Are you allowed to question a reporter? What’s the best way to push back if you think you’re being treated unfairly? In these situations, it’s good to know that you have options.

1. Demand Respect

You deserve to be treated with civility. In the heat of the moment, tempers may flare, but you shouldn’t be subjected to abusive behavior. Obscenities, threats and similar behavior don’t belong in the workplace. A warning is fine for the first offense, but if the behavior continues, ask to speak to an editor or a producer. Make it clear you’re not objecting to the coverage or the questioning – just the reporter’s behavior – and ask to work with someone else so your message can be delivered.

2. Don’t Get Ambushed

You should always be given the chance to see or receive information before a reporter interviews you about it. Sure, it will make a better visual if you’re seeing the information for the first time on camera, but if a reporter is truly interested in an informed response, he or she should give you the opportunity to review the subject of the questions.

3. Challenge Unfair Coverage

It’s ok to challenge a reporter if you believe he or she has been subjective in the coverage of an issue. Reporters’ personal opinions should be limited to the editorial pages and columns, not hard news coverage. If you can point to subjective opinion in a news story, you should bring this to a reporter’s attention and respectfully request a correction. However, don’t ask for a correction just because the facts make you uncomfortable – bad news is still newsworthy.

4. Hold Them Accountable

If a reporter refuses to correct inaccurate or misleading news coverage, point it out. More and more often, newsrooms are sharing each other’s stories, which means an inaccurate article could show up in several newspapers besides the one in which it was originally published. If you’ve made a clean case for the correction and you’re not getting anywhere, let other reporters know that there were errors in the original coverage, despite the accurate information that was provided. You’ll hopefully nip copycat articles in the bud and you’ll put the original author on notice that you intend to hold him or her accountable.

5. Pick Your Battles

Finally, choose your battles wisely. You may have the right to challenge coverage, and you may be fully justified in doing so, but make sure it’s worth it. Not every error deserves a DEFCON 1 response. Some reporters may appreciate you pointing out a typo; others may not. Know your audience before you engage.

Even if you disagree with a reporter, it’s important to remember that both you and he or she have a job to do – your job is to represent your client or your issue and the reporter’s job is to report objectively on something that is newsworthy. Bad news usually isn’t personal. You have the right to keep it that way.