Seven Ways To Respond To A Negative News Story

This is an excerpt from my new book, The Media Training Bible: 101 Things You Absolutely, Positively Need to Know Before Your Next Interview, now available in soft cover and all major e-book formats.

I’m occasionally asked whether it’s ever appropriate to “freeze a reporter out,” or refuse to speak to him again.
Whenever I hear that, I immediately think of a scene out of The Godfather or Fatal Attraction, complete with horse’s head and boiled bunny. I imagine frustrated interviewees suddenly appearing as caped crusaders, exacting their revenge on unfair journalists by “rubbing them out.”

Think hard before you do that. Freezing a reporter out is a dramatic step that often backfires. After all, you probably think a company is guilty when a newscaster says, “We contacted representatives from the Huge Corporation, but they refused to return our phone calls.”

Before blacklisting a reporter, consider these remedies:

1. Take it to a neutral party: It’s an age-old truth: The closer you are to a news story, the more likely it is you will find it flawed. Ask neutral parties to read, listen to, or watch the story and give you their feedback. You may be surprised to find that the message you hoped would get through to the audience did, indeed, get through.

2. Talk to the reporter: Reporters need access to sources to do their jobs, and good reporters are willing to hear their sources’ objections to a story (they may not agree with you, but they usually listen). When you speak, remain polite regardless of the response. You will get a better reaction to a discussion about objective factual errors than subjective differences of opinions, but you’re welcome to make your case if you believe their view lacks perspective. If they’ve gotten a key fact wrong, you’re entitled to request a correction.

3. Write a response: You may have forums available to you for a response, such as a letter to the editor, an op-ed, or a website’s comments section. Don’t repeat the original errors in your response, since doing so gives those errors more airtime. Just articulate your view.

4. Speak to the editor: If you’ve gotten nowhere with the reporter, you can raise your objections with the reporter’s boss. Who knows? You may be the fourth person to complain about the same reporter in the past week. There is a downside here, though—no one likes to be complained about, and the reporter may take it out on you with even less favorable news coverage in the future.
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5. Respond with statements only: If it’s clear that the news organization is irrevocably biased against your company, you have two choices: cut off all access for future stories or respond to subsequent inquiries from that news organization with precision. I usually recommend the latter, which means sending a short written statement in response to future queries. That brief statement prevents the reporter from saying you refused to comment, and gives you more control over the quote.

6. Cut off all access: The only time I ever recommend cutting off all access is when there is nothing to be gained by speaking to the reporter. Those cases may exist, but they’re rare. Most of the time, good media management means finding solutions to working with journalists, not avoiding them altogether.

7. Use online and social media: Cutting off access to a news outlet doesn’t mean you stop communicating. Use online and social media to continue communicating with your key audiences through all available channels, including your company website and blog, and your corporate social media accounts.

The Media Training Bible is available from Amazon here and for the Kindle here