Nothing is as spooky as silence…

It’s the scariest time of year – Halloween!  Everywhere I look there are spooky decorations, gory costumes, horror movies, and dishes of high-calorie candy.  However, none of these things strike as much fear into the heart of an average person like an interview request from a reporter.

As the former Executive Producer of a TV news station, I know a lot of people think being interviewed feels like more of a trick than a treat.  The fear of misspeaking during an interview can cause even the most confident public speakers to clam up.

Now, as a Communications Specialist, it’s that silence that scares me. The silence that comes after you ask someone if they can give an interview about a subject is my Pennywise the Dancing Clown. No response to a media request can be just as bad as a negative response.

Not responding can make it appear that:

  1. You’re hiding something.
  2. Rumors circulating amongst the public are true.
  3. You don’t deem a topic that may be of great interest to the public is worthy of a response.
  4. You are not responding because you’re preoccupied with something even more newsworthy. (Which may prompt a reporter to seek you out in person.)

I recommend responding to media inquiries within the same work day a request was received.  If that is not possible, it is important to respond within at least 24 hours.  Working with the local, regional, and national media is a two-way street and having a respectful relationship with reporters will benefit you in the long run. Responding within a day is part of that respect.

Your initial response can be as simple as acknowledging you received the request for an interview and asking for more information from the reporter.  Then you can decide whether you will agree to be interviewed.

I encourage you to ask questions like:

  • Can you provide more information about the article you’ve been assigned?
  • What prompted this story idea?
  • Have you spoken to anyone else about this? What did they say?
  • What is your deadline?

But what if you cannot answer the reporter’s questions? What if you do not have the authority to talk about a particular topic, or simply do not want to be interviewed?  There are many options for handling these situations.

  1. If you cannot discuss a particular topic because it’s an HR matter or perhaps related to a lawsuit, it’s perfectly fine to say you’re unable to provide information due to privacy reasons if it involves an employee or due to ongoing legal action. It is possible to provide a polite response without sharing information that does not belong in the public arena.
  2. If you are not authorized to talk about a subject, identify who is authorized. Inform that person that a reporter has contacted you and pass the reporter’s information on to them.  If there is another outside person or agency that would be more appropriate for a reporter to talk to, suggest the reporter contact that entity directly.
  3. If you do not want to be interviewed but you do have information to provide, tell the reporter you are willing to provide a written statement in response to the reporter’s questions. Then agree on a deadline and follow through with providing a written response within that time frame.

It is important to note that all of these responses involve communicating with the reporter, even if it is to politely decline the request for an interview.  Remember – ignoring a media request IS a response.  Many media outlets will include a sentence such as, “We reached out to ____ for a comment but they did not respond.”  At best, this can make you look like you’re not engaged or reliable enough to respond to a phone call or email. At worst, it looks like you are actively hiding information.

Even if agreeing to be interviewed never feels like a “treat” to you, hopefully over time it will become less scary.  For tips and best practices for media interviews, check out my colleague Daron Selvig’s series of brief videos:

One thought on “Nothing is as spooky as silence…”

  1. Great things to keep in mind, Heather! It is important to respond to a media request for an interview in a timely manner. As you point out, this is crucial so that you don’t appear as if you’re avoiding the media for some reason.

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