Scandal & Conflict make great stories and even better television as elected officials try to avoid the camera and dodge the reporter's questioning.
Sex, misuse of public funds and public officials lying to the public have been the status quo in Detroit politics for quite some time. In fact, as the Communications Director for the City of Detroit and Press Secretary to the interim-Mayor, I spent a bulk of my time, responding to FOIA requests and issues related to the previous mayor who is still serving time in jail for extortion, tax evasion and a few other criminal matters.
M.L. Elrick, a Pulitzer Prize winner and current reporter with FOX 2 News (Detroit), has done an amazing job looking into the background of each member of Detroit's City Council and sharing with the public what he has found.
One's immediate impulse is to run away from a reporter who is working on a story that has the potential to damage ones reputation. However, you do more harm than good by avoiding the camera -- it never looks good on TV and a reporter won't go away until his or her questions are asked.
"The quickest way to get a reporter to go away," Laura Moore, the assistant news director at Fox 2 Detroit recently told The Detroit News, "is to answer his questions."
in fact, if a reporter emerges from the bushes or otherwise ambushes you, STOP in your tracks. Don't continue to walk, don't avoid them, don't put your hand in front of the camera and whatever you do, DON"T SAY NO COMMENT.
- Look the reporter in the eye.
- And answer the question -- even if it is with a non-answer.
Let the reporter and the public know you hear them and be prepared to respond in a way that will preserve your reputation.
After the initial confrontation and if this issue caught you by surprise, go back to your office, gather your thoughts, draft a few key messages, post a blog or tweet or video in your own words and call the reporter back for a more detailed on the record discussion. Make sure your version of the facts is out there for the public to decide. Their opinion may already be made up if you continue to avoid the media.
If you did something wrong, admit it. But also tell me what you are doing about it. And whatever you do, don't run. It is not what we elected you do. You may find that despite your past and your faults or admit what you did we will still support you. We all have faults, as a public official, you need to admit them.
It is the role of media, to investigate, to inform and to drive change in the public arena. Many reporters have a lot invested in developing these stories. Chances are, by the time they get to you, their stories have already been written and produced. They are simply looking for a quick visual and a soundbite.
You will be better off if you talk with them, rather than avoid them.