How many times have you seen someone talking to a reporter and ask “did he really just say that?” What was he possibly thinking? Sometimes people do say stupid things but sometimes they just get caught because they are not used to speaking to reporters. This is especially true when you are responding to a crisis. Remember that the reporter has one set of goals – and they are not your goals.

When you get into a crisis, it’s too late to be deciding who and how to talk to the media. Have a plan and practice it before the crisis hits so you don’t get caught off guard. The list below has some helpful thoughts about dealing with reporters. It was originally developed at a crisis communications workshop at a Florida Beekeepers meeting in 1992 in response to scaremongering about africanized honey bees. These rules are still relevant today and apply no matter what your crisis is.

  1. Individual Rights – No one from the press has the right to violate your individual rights.
  2. Honesty – Never mislead or lie to a reporter. If the situation is under litigation, say this is so; if there is a question about profits, dollars or proprietary information, you can defer/refuse answering based on not informing competitors in the marketplace.
  3. Buzz Words – Never repeat an expression or inflammatory statement made by a reporter. As an example, if you are asked to what do you attribute this catastrophe, do not repeat the word “catastrophe.” It then becomes attributable to you and you alone; you will “own” it.
  4. Hostility – Never get angry; keep cool and remember the reporter always has the last word.
  5. Off the Record – There is no such thing; if you don’t want it reported, don’t say it.
  6. Estimates – Never make numerical estimates in time or dollars. Say that the incident is under investigation and you will provide accurate information when it becomes available.
  7. Reporter Verification – Ask for identification, the purpose of a reporter’s activities, media affiliation and telephone number.
  8. Bridging – Try to bridge the gap between a reporter’s wish to be negative and providing a positive statement about your activity.
  9. Statistics – If you are not aware of statistics provided by a reporter, say so and ask for them in writing before commenting.
  10. Deadlines – All reporters are on deadlines, but you are not. Take all the time necessary to avoid hasty comments. The fact that a microphone is stuck in your face doesn’t mean you have to say something. Dead air time is not likely to appear on television.
Excerpted with permission from Bee Culture magazine, Jan 2007.

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