What to Do When Reporters Don't Know the Story

There’s an unfortunate reality of doing interviews. Sometimes, reporters just don’t know the story.

Take, for example, this interview. After running celebrity Mo Farah — a two-time Olympic gold medalist — won the New Orleans Rock n’ Roll Half Marathon, setting a course record, WDSU anchor LaTonya Norton interviewed him as if he was new to competitive running, asking him, “Haven’t you run before?”

What can you learn from this exchange? Clearly, Norton had no idea that Farah is a running world-record holder, even though a simple Google search would have clued her in. It would have been easy for Farah to embarrass the anchor and expose her lack of knowledge about the sport and him. However, Farah handled the disastrous interview gracefully and thus came out looking better for it.

Here’s what you should remember when dealing with reporters who just don’t get it:

  1. 1. Remember that patience with reporters in non-confrontational situations will always make you look better. Even though he’s a star in the running world, Mr. Farah resisted the urge to embarrass Ms. Norton. It was the kind thing to do. The race was on a weekend, and local news outlets are notoriously light-staffed on weekends. That doesn’t make the reporter’s ignorance of Mr. Farah acceptable, but it might partially explain it. At the end of the day, Farah appeared gracious and classy.
  2. 2. If you do find yourself in a challenging interview and the reporter doesn’t know the story, don’t be afraid to politely correct his or her wrong premises. Phrases like “That’s not necessarily the case” or “Actually, what we’re seeing is” will help you correct the reporter’s wrong assertions without making you look condescending or rude. 
  3. 3. Unknowledgeable reporters can be your friends. Sure, it can be really frustrating to do an interview with a reporter who doesn’t know the story. However, that reporter is a blank slate and thus an opportunity. You can spend your time talking about only your most important messages without having to compete with his or her already existing points of view.

A grateful h/t to my terrific running coach, Chris Sloane, for sharing this interview.

Want more media tips? Follow me on Twitter @PMRChristina.