How Not To Deal With The Media

Wolves arguing Newfoundland paper ‘The Telegram‘ recently published an article detailing an email trail between Newfoundland journalist Craig Westcott and Elizabeth Matthews, the Director of Communications for Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams.

Check out the article – it makes very interesting reading.

Matthews has blacklisted Westcott for a while due to his criticism of the Premier. The government is apparently now also shutting his paper out of government advertising.

As the Canadian Journalism Project noted:

When all the spin and personalities are removed it seems to come down to the cruel realities of being an experienced self -employed journalist in a small town who must not only report news and events but is also called on to do SIGNED commentary and editorials …something the local daily does not.

The Telegraph also published a critical follow-up post that refers to a thoughtful post by Ed Hollett.

I won’t comment on who has the moral high ground here in terms of the history, but I do have a couple of thoughts about this incident that we can learn from:

  1. Don’t involved in acrimonious back-and-forths with reporters. You’re unlikely to win, and you almost certainly won’t come out of it looking good
  2. As Hollett says, "The biggest thing is to keep personalities out of it;  sometimes even when you have to deal with arguably the biggest idiot on the planet you have to find a way of getting on with the job."

    Agreed. It appears here that personalities and personal feelings got in the way. That’s where things fell off the rails.

  3. Nothing is off the record. Don’t assume that because you’re not in an ‘interview’ that the reporter can’t/won’t publish what you’re saying.

Every person that I’ve talked to says the same thing about journalists – they’re good, reasonable people who generally aren’t out to ‘get’ you. However, if you get into conversations like this, you’re asking for trouble.

(Photo credit: Laenulfean)

  • Good post. As a former journalist who now works as a communication professor and runs a PR agency, I concur.

    I would add: People, especially government officials, need to remember that a journalist’s job is to write a story. That doesn’t mean s/he has to write *your* story.

    For example, say a community decides to install parking meters. A journalist could lead his story by discussing how community members voiced their opposition to this, calling it “slimy” and “greedy.” On other other hand, a journalist could lead with, “To avoid a budget deficit without raising taxes, town officials will install parking meters…”

    The first lead seems negative and the second lead sounds pro government. But neither is factually inaccurate.

    Yet, as a journalist, I’ve encountered government officials who would go as far as attempting to get a reporter fired for writing a lead like the first one.

    Such reaction is absurd and, in the end, the government official only looks bad. You should never make enemies with the press because you can’t win that battle.

    Of course, if there’s a factual mistake, you should seek a correction. The vast majority of journalists strive to be accurate and objective. But, as you advise, be reasonable, don’t take things personally and don’t look for trouble.

  • Hi Dave…A good posting that I’ll show to others in the future. Getting into a fight with anyone on email is never a good idea whether that person is a journalist or not. Email just has that nasty tendency to show up when you least expect it.

    Here’s something I’ll post on my site. It is by far the worst case I’ve seen of handling the media.

    Have a look: http://www.myragantv.com/video/?d=299

    Josh