Know your rights In an Interview
The headline attracts your interest, doesn’t it? Many executives, and partners in law firms too, are accustomed to directing their subordinates, instruct reporters to send them a draft of their articles before publication. Most reporters will reject that request and additionally will get the impression that the partner treated them like an employee requiring approval.
At least in democratic countries, journalists have no obligation to share their final stories with you – so please don’t ask them to. But you have some other rights – or tricks – that can help to balance the article in your direction.
Request questions in advance
Journalists who are working for major news organizations will not share their specific questions with you prior to an interview – such “hard news” reporters regard their questions as confidential until the moment they’re asked and fear that sharing them will tilt the balance of power too much in your favour. But, they are usually willing to share the general premises of their stories. So, you can ask for those – to be well prepared and able to answer every question in detail.
Other reporters, including those working for smaller news organizations or B2B-publications like a trade publication – are often willing to share their questions in advance, they simply don’t care. In either case reporters are entitled to ask unscripted follow-up questions, so prepare for the interview!
Offer to fact-check
Offering to “fact-check” a story is different than requesting to see a story prior to publication. Whereas asking a journalist to see an article in advance suggests a controlling executive, offering to see an article’s key facts, in particular complicated legal issues, is usually regarded as helpful. If reporters take you up on your offer, they might email you the entire story – I would bet they will. If so, be careful in offering to change more than the key facts – but you can add that you would interpret some facts slightly different.
Tape the interview
Although it can create a defensive environment before you even begin – you may consider audio taping your raw interviews with reporters in certain circumstances, especially those you expect to become hostile. Reporters who know you’re taping them care to avoid misquoting. And if you’re misquoted anyway, you can release the raw tape to the public. Many countries require you to notify the other party that you’re recording – you know all about that. Just tell the reporters they’ll be recorded.
Limit the time
Limiting the time of an interview can prevent it from turning into a harmful fishing in the dark. If you have your doubts, tell the reporter you’d love to talk but only have a 15-minute-window available. Make sure you set the time limit when you are arranging, not conducting the interview – otherwise it will look too defensive.
Make these procedures the exception to the rule than your standard operating procedure. Your goal is to forge productive relationships with journalists, not to view them as the enemy.
Keep in mind, they are out for a story, but they don’t represent other parties’ interests. At least most of the time.
Georg Baldauf, Founder of Greenberg Advisory, spent 15 years in communications, campaigning, and the media. In the past he worked as the PR Manager of international law firm Wolf Theiss. Previously he had led WPP's Ogilvy PR Team in Vienna and worked also on an EAME level, advising clients from different sectors, like finance, industry, and politics – campaigning in national elections. He is now focusing on litigation and finance PR. As a qualified communication specialist, he is also working towards finishing his legal degree.