Dear Dr. Bob:
I’m convinced a reporter is out to get me. What should I do?
To coin a phrase, “first thing, don’t panic.”
Consider the following:
a) Is the reporter really out of get you or have you just screwed up?
b) Is the reporter using material that is factual, even if you don’t like it being made public?
c) Is the reporter either making things up, using unnamed critical sources, or persistently writing stories that are untrue and unflattering?
If you chose “a” or “b” the reporter is likely not out to get you, just doing basic journalism on things that you’ve done or not done. Best advice for those situations is to own up to the issues, come clean with the reporter and move on.
If you chose “c” there are a few things you can do:
1. Talk to the reporter citing your concerns about “factual errors.” Not “factual opinions,” but real factual errors like “day” instead of “night, “travel was paid for by a lobbyist” instead of “did not use lobbyist money for the trip.” etc.
Keep your emotions out of the conversation. Getting pissed off at the reporter and get satisying but counterproductive relief by name calling doesn’t help solve the problem. Stick with facts.
2. Talk to the reporter’s boss or editor. Don’t do this unless you’ve gotten nowhere with the reporter…nobody likes having someone go over their head. Again, don’t complain about the reporter as a person, just point out factual errors. Ask for a retraction, chance to set the record straight with an OpEd, etc.
3. For broadcast media (TV, Radio) you can follow these same general guidelines, but keep in mind that they are different animals. I can’t even remember the last time I heard or saw a TV news retraction. So the objectrive there is to, again, cite factual errors and ask for a brief meeting with the reporter or producer to get things worked out. CAUTION: What you don’t want to do is go on air or agree to another interview during which you raise your concerns about the facts. You want to make the stories go away, not add more fuel to the fire. So give them a written statement that is brief, to the point and notes that the station has acknowledged their errors.
4. Finally, along the same lines, if you’re stilll having problems with one or more reporters, make it a habit to issue those brief, to the point statements. That makes it harder for any reporter to play “gotcha” — althought they may still try.
When all is said and done, there is a symbiotic relationship between reporters and politicians, candidates and elected officials. We need each other in order to keep moving. So while you need to remember tjhat reporters are not your “friends” its best if you cultivate a quasi friendship from the very start. Be open, always honest, and especially available and responsive. Do those things and you’lll know much earlier if they’re out to get you or just wrong.