How to deal with a “frienemy” in the media – Media training

Before the Iowa caucus, the news was peppered with Donald Trump’s decision not to participate in the last republican debate. His reason: He said the reporter chosen to moderate the show had been unfair to him with her questions in a previous debate.

While there is much discussion as to whether his “no show” decision will hurt his campaign, the incident begs a question in the larger context of public relations and media relations: How do you handle an interview with a reporter you believe is using “gotcha journalism” tactics?

A few things to keep in mind before we explore this topic: Most reporters are not “out to get” an organization or a specific person. It is their responsibility to ask tough questions on behalf of their viewers and readers. And, even though you might not like the questions, they ask questions they think the public would ask if given the chance.

Reporters are taught to be unbiased and, I believe, in most cases they are. However, if the relationship is strained and you strongly feel that a reporter is consistently trying to damage or discredit you or your organization, it’s best to proceed with the following:

Play nice in the sandbox. Avoid being openly hostile to any reporter. Nasty behavior will always become the headline and you will look like the bad guy, no matter what the reporter said to provoke you. Before the interview, anticipate what kind of negative or tough questions the reporter may ask and plan and practice your responses. A good media trainer can help you with a number of ways to answer difficult questions without coming across as defensive or angry.

Try mending the relationship. Contact the reporter and, in a friendly tone, acknowledge you sense the relationship is strained but you would like to put past grievances behind you. State you would enjoy having a constructive, professional relationship with him going forward.

When possible, move on. If the first two suggestions do not improve the relationship then it might be time to reconsider the media target and turn down interviews with that particular reporter or media outlet, but do it politely. Simply have your media relations manager say that you are not available for an interview due to previous commitments. At this point, explore other reporters or media outlets that might be a better fit for the organization.