The 5 Conundrums of Media Relations

Over decades of dealing with the media in high-pressure situations we’ve come to realize that the rules many people assume reporters must follow simply don’t exist. In fact, what we’ve seen again and again is that reporters simply don’t follow the same rules they expect the subjects of their stories to. The result is this list from BCM president Jonathan Bernstein, “The Five Conundrums of Media Relations,” which are as follows:

  1. A reporter has the right to challenge anything you say or write, but will bristle when you try to do the same to them.
  2. A reporter can put words in a naive source’s mouth via leading questions (“Would you say that…? Do you agree that…? Do you feel that…?”) and then swear by the authenticity of those quotes.
  3. The media will report every charge filed in a criminal or civil case despite the fact that a civil case, in particular, can make all sorts of wild, unproven claims with coverage focusing far more on the allegations than on responses by a defendant.
  4. The media usually carries a bigger stick than you through its ability to selectively report facts and characterize responses, and via the public perception that “if I saw it in/on the news, it must be true.”
  5. “Off the record” often isn’t and “no comment” means “I’ve done something wrong and don’t want to talk about it.”

These five items form the core of what makes the media so difficult to deal with in crisis situations. It feels like the deck is stacked against you because it is. Of course that doesn’t mean you automatically lose the game, you just need to know what rules you’re really playing under!

Erik Bernstein

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Comments 3

  1. Marc Williams

    These conundrums are spot-on! In regard to #5, that’s where Jonathan’s line “In the absence of communication, the void is filled with rumor and innuendo” is a classic, and so very true. There are always ways we can provide comment without compromising ourselves, our organization or client. In your interview preparation, you need to anticipate and prep for those questions/issues you can’t provide comment on, and develop a response that fills the ‘void.’ Never say ‘no comment.’

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