Three (More) Questions Reporters Always Ask

Click here to see our first article in this series, The Three Questions Reporters Always Ask.

My first article in this series looked at three questions reporters always ask: those you don’t know the answer to, ones that call for speculation, and queries that demand your personal opinion. Today, I add three more to the list.

1. Yes or No Questions

“This is a simple yes or no – aren’t your financial forecasts occasionally wrong?”

During our media training sessions, I almost always trap a trainee with a “yes or no” question. Here’s why they’re so insidious: They almost always have an obvious answer, and everyone watching the interview knows it. But if you answer with a direct “yes or no,” the resulting quote will be awful.

Let’s say you answer the question by saying, “Yes, sometimes our forecasts are wrong, but they’re right a lot more often than they’re wrong.” The resulting news story will almost certainly read, “When asked whether his company’s forecasts were often wrong, company spokesman Bob Smith said ‘yes.’”

You don’t have to answer on their terms. Instead, say something like, “You know, it’s not so simple. The question isn’t whether or not forecasts are perfect, but whether ours is the most reliable in the marketplace. And the answer, according to three independent studies, is that ours is the most accurate forecast available today.”

2. Third Party Questions

Your competitor recently released a similar product. I’ve heard some people in your company bash their product. Why do you think their product isn’t as good as yours?”

Little helps a news organization sell papers or attract viewers more than conflict.

Therefore, reporters will often ask you to comment on third parties, usually your competitors or opponents. Instead of taking the bait, answer the question by focusing on your own attributes.

For example, you might say, “Well, let me talk about our product. Ours is the only one in the marketplace that….”

Occasionally, you might want your quote to address your opponent’s flaws. But since that quote will inevitably be the one included in the story, make sure it’s consistent with your overall communications strategy.

3. The Repeated Question Repeated

Reporters are notorious for asking the same question with slightly different words several times.

If you’re asked the same questions repeatedly, remember these two things:

First, stick to your messages. You should alter the specific words of each response, but not the themes of your answers.

Second, watch your tone. You should be as calm the sixth time the reporter asks you a question as you were the first, since the reporter will inevitably use your least flattering response.

Remember: A reporter’s job is to get you off-message and off-tone.

Related: 7 Things to Do When The Media Gets It Wrong
Related: 5 Ways to Avoid Being Misquoted By Reporters