Four Ways That Journalists Trick You Into Talking
They say that any publicity is good publicity, but we all know that isn’t true. There are many situations where you may not want to be quoted in the paper or to have factual information reported. If you are negotiating a sensitive deal to buy or sell an asset, for instance, the last thing you want is for details of the transaction to be reported in the paper before the agreement is finalised. If you have a difficult relationship with another person or organisation, it is rarely in your interest to make negative comments about them in public. Unfortunately, either of these outcomes will earn a reporter a pat on the back from their editor for a great story. Both of these hazards seem pretty simple to avoid – just don’t speak to the journalist or, if you do, don’t tell them anything. After all, journalists have no coercive powers, unlike a legal authority they can’t make you give them information. So why do I pick up the paper every day and see stories like these which the subject has no doubt been losing sleep over? The answer is that good journalists are experts in making you feel like you have to speak. It is a core skill. For this reason, I have assembled the four top tricks that journalists use to con you into talking when it isn’t really in your interest. In my former career as a journalist I used them all from time to time and now I hear them being used upon my own clients. 1. Pretending they know more than they do This is the top way that journalists convince you to talk out of turn. Journalists will often claim to know far more about a situation than they really do. This encourages you to offer new information in the belief that they already know it, or to confirm their guesses which were not printable until you confirmed them. 2. Pretending they have been told a wrong fact Journalists who have heard of a deal will sometimes pretend that they have been told other information, like a price, in order to flush you out. Typically this is a number that would cause you embarrassment. “I heard you are buying it for [imprudently large sum] but I’m happy to use your figure instead. Otherwise, I will have to use this number.” You then unnecessarily tell them the right number and suddenly they have a good story. 3. Falsely summarising someone else’s comments If someone makes some moderate comments, a journalist will call you and paraphrase them so it sounds like they have criticised you or said something obnoxious. This may provoke you to criticise them and bingo! – the journalist has a story based on your comments. Always check the original transcript first before commenting yourself – don’t rely on a journalist’s summary. 4. I am definitely going to publish tomorrow so you need to talk now Journalists who don’t have much of a story will sometimes use time pressure to make you speak in a panic. This often means claiming they are going to publish imminently when, in fact, they will only publish if you give weight to the story by speaking. If you stick to your guns and decline to comment, the story never appears.