Question: Do You Tape Reporters During Media Interviews?

I recently received the following email from Christopher Holcroft, an Australian public relations pro. He writes:

“I have found these days more and more journalists who conduct phone interviews are recording them on voice recorders. To ensure there is complete transparency and to keep within my country’s federal laws, I ask the journalist if they are recording. I then ask do they mind if I record for my records.

This recording has now put both the journalist and yourself on the path to a complete record of what was said. Nothing can be mistaken.

Also, if the journalist skews their article/story you have a complete record to seek correction if required. The recording is also great for your bosses as it protects you and what you said versus what the journalist thought you said and reported.

I also encourage all interviewees to bring a voice recorder to media interviews and openly place it on the table next to the journalist so there is no mistake you are also recording the event for truthfulness. This way you can send a copy of the interview to your bosses before the story is aired or published.”

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In my two decades as a journalist and public relations practitioner, I’ve seen three media relations practices that were once largely verboten become acceptable, at least in some circumstances: Asking reporters for their questions in advance, requesting to see a copy of their stories before they run, and recording raw copies of interviews. (To be clear, the first two practices are only acceptable in certain cases, but they’re more common today than they were a decade ago.)

One obvious reason for the apparent increase in taping interviews is technology: Whereas taping once required us to carry a separate piece of equipment (three, actually: the recorder, a cassette, and fresh batteries), smartphones make it easy today for anyone, at any time. I suspect another reason is that social media has gotten us accustomed to living more public lives, so journalists who might have viewed tape recorders as an intrusive irritant a generation ago are more likely to view it as an inevitability today.

I understand the merits of the “record every interview” argument well, and have encountered many clients who employ such a policy. For some clients, particularly those dealing with highly controversial and potentially litigious issues, I agree that keeping an audio or video trail makes sense.

Personally, though, I don’t advise it to our clients as a general practice. Setting a tape recorder on the table immediately creates a climate of mistrust. Therefore, you might reserve its use for times when: you have a reasonable suspicion that the interviewer has an agenda and is not to be trusted; the news outlet is unfavorable toward your work; the topic is of great economic and/or reputational consequence. 

If you do decide to record an interview, make sure you remain on the right side of the law. You can find out if your state requires one- or two-party consent here.

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What are your practices regarding taping media interviews? Please leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.