Most of you will never have to deal with an intrusive news reporter. Unless you’ve done something noble and deserving of a public pat on the back, you’d likely prefer to avoid me and my ilk.
But there are people employed to deal with members of the media, Lord bless their souls. They are paid by private companies or governmental agencies to serve as a contact point for inquiring minds from the fourth estate. Sometimes, they are helpful liaisons who provide pertinent interviews and information.
Sometimes, the subject matter is controversial, even scandalous. When that happens, the tone commonly changes.
Here are some of the reactions we reporters receive when our questions involve sensitive subjects, and the message we hear.
What they say— Where did this come from? You know, this is not really a story.
What we hear— How did you find out about this embarrassing event that we’ve been working to keep a secret? Although it’s a complete waste of time for me to tell you it’s not a story, right now I can’t think of anything else to say that might dissuade you from pursuing this.
What they say— We’ll send you a written statement.
What we hear— We’re going to tell you what we want you to know about this, and nothing more. If we agree to an on-camera interview, it means you’ll have the opportunity to hold our feet to the fire about issues we’d rather not address.
What they say— You’ll need to file an Open Records Request.
What we hear— I can get that documentation for you quite easily, but I need to make this as difficult and expensive as I can for you in hopes that you’ll go away.
What they say— What’s your deadline?
What we hear— I plan to wait until the last possible second to get the answer to your question, and it won’t really answer you at all. This will cause you the most stress and possibly fluster you so you appear uncomfortable on-air.
What they say— Can I call you right back?
What we hear— I’m not calling you back. Send me an email.
What they say— I used to work in a newsroom.
What we hear— I don’t work in a newsroom anymore.
What they say— Have you called (insert name of another agency here)?
What we hear— I need you to call someone else about this, even though they have nothing to do with it. The purpose is to distract you for a couple of hours while I think of a way to respond.
What they say— Why are you guys always so sensational?
What we hear— I know reporters don’t like to be accused of being sensational, and I’m throwing that out there to knock you off guard. It doesn’t really mean anything, and it doesn’t mean that the issue you’re asking about isn’t legitimate.
What they say– Can you send me your questions in an email?
What we hear— Written statement coming. Your request to interview someone in person is summarily denied.
Allow me to add that I have great respect and empathy for the people hired to deal with pesky people like me. They field questions on topics that are not of their making. Their answers are often directed from above.
Most of the media reps I encounter on a regular basis are cordial and even helpful, even when the story may place their organization in an unflattering light. Even the ones who give me the “I worked in a newsroom and I don’t think this is a story” line end up providing the information I need. There have even been times when a respectful discussion has convinced me a story isn’t as big as I initially thought.
But there are times…
Of course, it’s not their job to make my life easier.
Or improve my hearing.