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7 tricky questions reporters will ask—and how to answer them

Reporters could be a wily bunch. Of their efforts to get to the truth, bottom of the story, real deal, or the within skinny, they only may let slip a tricky question.

In case you are on the receiving finish of such an inquiry, the last thing you want to let slip is a less-than-ideal answer. There are ways to handle such interrogatory snags, including the methods we train in our media coaching courses. As a spokesperson, you want to know the forms of tricky questions reporters ask and how to answer them. We offer you seven.

Journalists, investigators, talk-show hosts, academics, and fogeys have all discovered that blunt, startling questions typically provoke blunt and startling answers. So, maintain the following pointers useful.

Study how to punt being too blunt, but come across as plain-spoken. Now, that’s a trick.

7 Tricky Questions Reporters Ask

1. The ones that stump you

In any given interview, a question might problem your recall. A reporter might not necessarily be making an attempt to stump you, but her query leaves you flat-footed, however.

Until the interview is a difficult one or is hostile, the truth that you don’t know an answer shouldn’t provoke undue nervousness. You’ve several choices.

Choice No. 1 – A easy “I don’t know,” might suffice. When you have the time and assets, you may say: “I don’t know, but I will get you that information and follow-up with a more complete answer.” The subsequent strategy is useful in case you or the reporter wouldn’t have the posh of a follow-up interview, or the query concerned information that you simply really should have had.

Choice No. 2 – Tell the journalist what you already know, not what you don’t. For instance, you’re a spokesperson for a financial institution, and you’re requested what the household saving proportion fee is in america. You have no idea that quantity, however that isn’t what you are going to say. As an alternative, you may supply this:

“That rate has been in flux for more than a decade, as economic factors, such as the global financial crisis, made it difficult for the average person or family to set aside more of their disposable income into savings. What remains consistent, however, is the desire to set aside that nest egg. What we know is that people count on those funds for short-term needs, such as unexpected repairs or other emergencies. They also consider them a base for a long-term plan in establishing the funds they need for bigger purchases or retirement.”

Many interviewers will doubtless cease this line of questioning and move on to the subsequent thought. If a reporter presses, nevertheless, you’d go back to Choice No. 1.

Choice No. three – In case you are not the appropriate individual to answer a given question, it’s okay to say so. Merely concede that isn’t your area of expertise and supply to connect the reporter with somebody who is. For example, you’re the head brewer for a craft beer firm and during an interview, you’re requested concerning the firm’s financials – one thing to which you aren’t privy. Right here’s how you might handle the state of affairs:

“While I am well versed about grains and hops, I leave the dollars and cents to the people here who do that best. I’d be happy to connect you with someone who could answer that question.”

Tricky questions reporters ask

2. The ones that decision for you to speculate

Most individuals don’t have to worry about whether or not their everyday, garden-variety predictions find yourself being true or not. Did they assume visitors can be mild, however as an alternative discovered themselves in gridlock? Such is life. Nevertheless, when it comes to media interviews, until you’re a seer, it’s in all probability greatest not to speculate. Still, among tricky questions reporters ask, predicting the longer term is a popular one.

Some questions could be innocuous. In case you are a physician, and the reporter asks you what the obesity epidemic in the USA will do to the price of well being care, you may supply a glimpse of the longer term based mostly on details. Typically, it’s greatest not to interact in any principle or supposition that isn’t based mostly on agency evidence. Several things can occur in case you let slip incorrect info. You possibly can:

  • Escalate a state of affairs unnecessarily.
  • Present incorrect info.
  • Be confirmed fallacious.

Right here’s a state of affairs: You are the spokesperson for an electric company. An intense storm has knocked out power to hundreds of individuals. A reporter asks you to speculate as to when energy will be restored to all clients. Frustrations are in all probability high, so it’s essential not to overpromise with a speculative answer. When you can reliably conclude a time-frame, then go forward and answer. Otherwise, reply with what you do know:

“Our crews are working as quickly as they can to restore power to our customers. At this time, I am unable to give exact times as to restoration. I can tell you we have crews across the county working tirelessly to get the power restored to thousands of customers. We are restoring power to critical areas first, those places with hospital and safety services, and then moving to repairs in areas that serve the most customers. We won’t rest until we get to each and every customer.”

three. Those that seek your personal opinion

Conflicts between personal opinion and company policy happen ceaselessly. Let’s say you are a spokesperson for a authorities agency that lately raised entrance charges to area parks and beaches. Personally, you are feeling the spike will make it prohibitive to the individuals who want that area probably the most.

After a reporter initially asks concerning the celebration line, he pivots and asks how you are feeling, personally, concerning the new coverage. What can you do? Here is something to contemplate:

Don’t give your personal opinion.

We have to be blunt. More often than not, it’s greatest to hold your opinions to your self when it comes to this tricky question reporters ask.

Nevertheless, there are situations when spokespersons and material specialists have leeway to converse their minds. For example, a worldwide institution might have an skilled who can speak about a geopolitical battle when it comes to what she witnessed and her opinion on the state of affairs. Or, a assume tank’s resident economist is asked his opinion concerning the numbers included in considered one of his stories.

When you have a robust ethical objection to a new coverage and feel compelled to say that, you’re in all probability not the best spokesperson for the topic. Ideally, you work out moral discrepancies internally, fairly than on a televised news program or by way of a newspaper article.

Even in case you supply your personal opinion as your personal and not one among your company, the reporter will nonetheless determine you as a spokesperson of that company. That disconnect can significantly wallop your message. Listed here are several the reason why:

  • The audience might focus solely on the battle between your ideals and those of your organization, slightly than the message or information you are attempting to convey.
  • Readers will be challenged to make sense of the message disconnect.
  • You will be unsuccessful in engaging in your major aim, which is to make your message land and stick.

How do you navigate out of this one?

    1. Tackle the request. Share with the reporter that you’re talking on behalf of your company or agency.
    2. Create a transition. It might go one thing like this: “I understand this represents a rather significant jump in prices. But, as a spokesperson for the department, I can tell you that we looked at what our facilities offered and what it takes to run them. We concluded that a price increase helps to create a better experience for the people who use our facilities.”
    3. Keep vigilant. Watch out not to say something that contradicts your group’s views. Those conflicts might turn into the information, relatively than the news you hope to ship.

A wooden marionette hanging on a wall.

four. Those that attempt to put phrases in your mouth

On the more innocuous finish of this less-than-ideal state of affairs, reporters might only be making an attempt to get a straight answer to a difficult question. (“So, you are saying that repairs to the driving garage will result in fewer spaces but higher costs. Isn’t that correct?”) Or, they want to get past the jargon. (“By saying you want to eliminate the health threat mosquitoes pose, you are just saying you are going to do more insecticide spraying, right?”) Nevertheless, there are conditions the place reporters are available with an angle and will exploit that by paraphrasing your phrases.

If a reporter paraphrases your phrases, don’t accept the paraphrase until it’s utterly correct. If it’s not, right the statement in your personal words with out utilizing any of the reporter’s loaded language. You’ll be able to’t control what the reporter will do with the knowledge, but you’ll be able to control what you supply. So, here’s an example:

You are the spokesperson for a multinational corporation with staff around the globe. At a number of the company’s manufacturing websites, staff have demanded greater wages and higher working circumstances however have met with resistance from management. A reporter comes to the interview intent on contrasting the company’s purported culture with its reaction to the employees.

Reporter: “Right on your website, you tout yourself as a corporation that cares for its employees and responds quickly to their concerns. It sounds as if that philosophy doesn’t apply when it comes to these workers.”

You: “I disagree with that characterization. The employees have raised several issues, and it is our responsibility to learn more, engage in a productive dialogue, and work together, where possible, to resolve them.”

Reporter: “If what you say is true, why is this issue dragging out for months? I ask again, what’s the delay?”

You: “We’d rather get it right than offer the wrong remedy quickly. We are taking this time to assess their concerns and develop an in-depth response that addresses them meaningfully.”

The change might end in much more of the tricky questions reporters ask. In every response, your objective is to reinforce the messages you want to tell and ship, moderately than serving to the reporter to create a headline that may not assist your organization, its manufacturers, or its efforts to resolve the state of affairs.

5. Those that come out of left area

In 2018, throughout an interview with NBC Information’ Andrea Mitchell, Dan Coats, the U.S. director of nationwide intelligence, didn’t essentially obtain an out of left area question by Mitchell. Moderately, it was a bit of stories that had him momentarily speechless.

Throughout a talk on the 2018 Aspen Security Discussion board, held by the Aspen Institute in Colorado, Mitchell interrupted her line of questions to report that the White Home had introduced, by way of Twitter, that Russian President Vladimir Putin was coming to the White Home that fall. While that finally did not happen, Coats first response was this “Say that again …?” (See the video under.)

Throughout questions and answer session later, Coats was asked if he had been conscious of that go to. Here’s how that went:

Coats: “I think based on my reaction I wasn’t aware of that.”

Query: “OK, given that, what do you think the agenda should be for that meeting?”

Coats: “Oh, goodness. First of all, they are not going to ask me what the agenda is. We will be looking at what the potential intelligence risk could possibly be. And, we will make that information known to the president. And we will provide him with whatever information we can gather relative to what might be on Putin’s mind or what they might want to achieve. But, you know, here we are 15 to 20 minutes into this breaking news, about this, so I think this is something we will just have to assess going forward.”

Mitchell: “Would you advocate that there wouldn’t be a one on one without notetakers?

Coats: “If I were asked that question, I would look for a different way of doing it.”

In the above trade, Coats experienced what might have been a troublesome state of affairs, given the sudden nature of the information. Coats utilized a number of strategies that work in simply such a state of affairs. He responded to the news, answered questions from the viewers, and instructed he needed more time to talk about it further.

Reporters, usually, might spring the sudden later within the interview, long after they’ve delivered a collection of “easier” questions. The zing is meant to catch you off-guard.

Listed here are a number of the methods to hold your self rooted:

Answer the query. A response almost all the time performs better to the audience. And, for those who’ve practiced or undergone media coaching, you must have the tools and assets to handle even the toughest questions. (When you have to be circumspect, nevertheless, you’ll be able to see how to deliver a “no comment” answer with out actually saying, “no comment.”)

Deflect the question. If the query is wildly off-base from the subjects the reporter indicated can be coated, you’ll be able to indicate that you’d be comfortable to schedule extra time at a later date to talk about different issues. This can be a good choice if the topic isn’t in your wheelhouse, or the viewers wouldn’t anticipate you to know much about it. The danger here is answering a question in such a method that does extra harm than not answering it in any respect.

Supply a wider image. If the reporter’s question is a few specific level, you possibly can answer the questions by giving a more basic response. For example, it’s Monday and inside an hour you’ve gotten an interview arrange with an area reporter to speak about your yr of progress. Over the weekend, considered one of your staff ran afoul with the regulation, and you are not but aware of it. It made the native news, and the reporter has taken the opportunity to ask you about it. When asked, you can say: “As a matter of policy, we don’t speak about personnel matters. However, when we learn of a possible incident, we immediately begin an internal investigation and take any necessary disciplinary actions promptly.”

6. Those that seek a critique

Battle, whether found between the covers of a novel, on the front page, or on a flat display, drives tales. Reporters reap the benefits of these tensions to pit one aspect towards the opposite. They are notably attuned to any important or destructive quotes. Right here’s a state of affairs:

You are the CEO of a producing company that is No. 2 in your business. The reporter is gunning for a critique of the highest competitor. There could also be occasions that you really want to say something crucial concerning the competitors. Subsequently, if your competitor’s product is inferior to your personal, go ahead and say it. By highlighting genuine drawbacks, you may achieve again some market share. Nevertheless, such an strategy have to be intentional and deeply rooted as part of an general media technique.

If a critique isn’t what you need to undertaking, here’s a method to maintain it constructive:

Reporter: “Do you think your competitors’ products are superior to your own? Is that why they command market share?”

In case you say “No, I don’t,” you’ve just given the reporter this: “Company X’s products aren’t all that, says Company Y’s CEO.” Right here’s a greater means:

“I’ll let Company X speak for itself, but what I can tell you is what we have learned from our consumers. They tell us our products last longer and work better than others on the market. If products last, there is less need for replacement. We consider this a good problem to have.”

Woman whispering in man's ear

7. Those that employ shaky attribution

It’s the stuff of middle-school playgrounds. Here’s the state of affairs: Jake tells Emily that Sarah stated that Emily clothes weirdly and laughs too loud. If Emily responds to Jake’s take of what Sarah stated, then she may say one thing she regrets (based mostly on info that was never even true in the first place).

Such shenanigans might play out during your media interview. A reporter might choose to make the most of shaky attribution to go fishing for some controversial comments. Watch out for questions with lead-ins reminiscent of, “Rumor has it …,” “My sources say …,” or “The word on the street is ….”

In at this time’s media panorama, using unnamed sources doesn’t appear to be going away anytime soon. Stories are peppered with anonymous sources. Meanwhile, journalistic organizations have appeared in to their use, as nicely.

If the indirect attribution precisely addresses a standard belief, then you should handle it. General, nevertheless, it’s higher not to talk about feedback attributed to nameless events. You virtually guarantee that the story will be targeted on your reaction to these comments somewhat than in your messages. Right here’s how to get out of that lure:

Your answer: “I’m not going to spend time on what unnamed sources said, but I’ll address the topic more generally.”

Typically, you’re confronted with direct attribution. As an example, a reporter asks you to comment on a report that you haven’t seen. You may say:

“I haven’t seen that report and want to examine it to understand the complete context before commenting.”

No tips, simply ideas

Media spokespersons might, from time to time, experience some difficult situations while responding to tricky questions reporters ask. One last item to keep in mind: While not every reporter intends to prosecute or trip up their sources, reporters are excellent at asking the questions that get to the bottom of the story.

These methods and ideas give you the tools you need to inform your story.

This article originally appeared on the Throughline Group blog; reprinted with permission.