What To Do When A Reporter Becomes A Pest

Reporters often call sources just to “keep in touch” and stay on top of trends and developing issues in the beats they cover. They cultivate these relationships to build trust in hopes of being the first to get inside information when stories break.

While beneficial for the reporter, it can also benefit you as a source — when carefully managed — by giving you influence in beat coverage and a possible warning if a negative story about your organization is imminent.

But what should you do if that reporter becomes a pest?

I’ve had clients forced to deal with reporters who call all the time. Some of those reporters call multiple officers at a company constantly and even bully them into talking by threatening to print that the company had “no comment,” even when the story had nothing to do with them.

This can create a problem within an organization working to control information flow and image. When reporters regularly catch your officers off guard or bully them into talking when they don’t have time or aren’t prepared, you can lose control over your information. That’s great for the reporter and terrible for you.

Still, dealing with this is tricky business. You typically can’t afford to blow off the reporter and risk losing influence; yet, at the same time, having little to no control over outgoing information can be dangerous for your organization.

A few steps may help you deal with such situations:  

1. Make sure there’s an organization-wide policy on talking to reporters.

Create a company policy that insists anybody talking to a reporter clears it through your communications team before the conversation continues. Make sure your executives are on board. They should be comfortable saying, “Out of respect for my communications department, I have to ask that you schedule any interviews and discussions through them.”

2. Have a point of contact.

This can be one person or a small group of people in your organization in charge of handling all reporter requests expeditiously. Explain to the reporter you’re happy to connect him or her with the person best equipped to provide the information needed in a reasonable timeframe, but that the request should go through you or your team. Although that may appear obstructionist, the truth is that there are many times this helps the reporter, such as when a key spokesperson is out of the country, on vacation, or otherwise unreachable; or when you know of someone in your company who has more expertise in the reporter’s area of interest.

3. Make it worth their while.

If there’s an important story approaching or a move your company is making, you can occasionally give your pesky reporter the information first. In exchange, explain that you expect the reporter to respect your point of contact rule and the fact that, when a story doesn’t have anything to do with your company, they shouldn’t print that you had “no comment.” By doing this, the reporter will have less motivation to unfairly pressure you into speaking with him or her.

What do you think? How do have you managed reporters who constantly check in? Please leave your thoughts in the comments section below.