What If the Media Ambushes Me?
One of the questions I get from time to time during media training is "what happens if a news reporter sticks a microphone in my face when I don't expect it?" The first time I was asked this I needed some additional info to find out what the person meant. Her reply was "What if I'm walking out of my office and a reporter confronts me in the parking lot and asks an embarrassing question about something going on? What should I do?"
This question stems from television shows like 60 Minutes, CTV's W5 and CBC's Marketplace. In most cases, the reporter is after somebody who has refused to comment to them over the phone. The best way to avoid being ambushed is to provide responses in a timely manner, regardless of how sensitive the topic is. It's always best to get "in front" of a story. The chances of a TV reporter showing up with a cameraman demanding answers from you are quite small if you return the reporter’s call, even if you say that you can’t comment. At least you show the reporter you’re not ignoring him.
Should you ever get ambushed, there are a few things to remember. It's always best to keep your cool and offer to do an interview later in the day. One of the worst things you can do is trying to run from the reporter. It makes you look bad and that shot of your back walking or running away always makes you look guilty. Remember though, very few reporters will take such an aggressive approach, especially if you treat them fairly.
There are times when you should be prepared to speak to the media. Let's say a group that you are a part of has made a presentation to a City or Town Council. Reporters cover those meetings, so you shouldn't be surprised if a member of the media approaches you and asks some questions. That's their job, so be prepared. Since you’ve just made a presentation you can expect reporters to want to get a few more details or have you make the same comments to them.
I always advise anyone who speaks to the media from time to time, or is in the public eye, to take a moment when a story breaks to figure out what their reaction would be if a reporter called them for a comment. It's a good exercise to prepare you for the real thing when you least expect it. As soon as you hear a story on the radio that’s related to your line of business, ask yourself what you would say if a reporter contacted you and wanted a comment.
Another aspect to remember is that there are far fewer investigative reporters than there were 10 or 15 years ago because of cutbacks in the media. This further reduces the chances of a reporter catching you off guard by asking embarrassing questions.
So relax and stop worrying about a media ambush.