Sometimes when I’m presented with this dilemma
it reminds of the old Yogiism “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” While only Yogi Berra himself knew what he meant at the time, we can have a clearer idea of what is the right “fork” to take when we get a request for an explanation about something difficult to address.
So, do you agree to an interview or issue a statement? If you’re dealing with a hot issue and the heat is being turned up on you, your business or organization you need to ask yourself some tough questions.
Is there something to be gained or maintained by opening yourself up to an interview?
In addition, is the issue in question directly about you or your organization or is the reporter wanting your expert or industry opinion on the controversial situation?
If it’s controversial, but you’re being tapped as a reporter-source to understand an issue, not your organization, better, I would say it depends on your confidence level. If you’re a newbie to media interaction, I’d steer clear of the interview. If you’d still like to put in your two cents, a statement can get your perspective out there without the risk of a follow-up question that might trip you up.
“…if someone is indicting you or your organization…don’t let the reporter convince you a statement is sufficient for your side.”
In addition, when a reporter is calling a couple of days after a story has broken and they want to just “go on the record” with the story so they can say they covered it. In other words, they’re playing catch up, that’s when I would definitely just issue a statement. An on-camera interview two days after the fact, especially if it’s a negative story, will just extend the story’s life.
On the flip side, if someone is indicting you or your organization on an issue and they give a persuasive interview backing up their claims, don’t let the reporter convince you a statement is sufficient for your side. I’ve had this happen to me and I expressed to the reporter that if they afforded the other side an on-camera interview, which ended up being an emotional story, then I should be given the same opportunity that day to answer those claims regardless of their deadline. In this case, the statement would make you look dismissive and cold. Your face needs to be seen as caring, but logical and rational.
Steve Linscomb worked in the news media for 28 years. He currently serves as an official spokesperson for a public school district in the San Antonio metro area and is a freelance writer.