27 Jul The Rise of “Gotcha!” Reporting and Fall of Journalism
There is an unsettling trend of reporters chasing down officials and shoving microphones in their faces. This gotcha reporting tactic turns the news gathering process and subsequent stories into a sensationalized circus. Some reporters have this method down so well it has become their only form of storytelling. Don’t get me wrong; having begun my communications career in a television newsroom, I understand the frustration of getting the safe holding statement from a government official or private business that offers zero real answers. But I also never understood full-on ambushing people. There’s a lack of respect in that behavior.
So, how do we take back news?
I believe it involves both the media and my own newer career field: public relations. While our interactions often mimic a game of chess, there needs to be some give and take along with a huge serving of respect. Both fields are racing the clock and working to gather all the facts. Both also come with their own bias with the truth landing somewhere in the middle.
Here are a few suggestions that can help:
First or Factual. I can’t count the number of times I’ve had a client under attack for false claims when one or two rookie reporters jump on the rumors rather than check into their sources and verify information. Rumors are only news on front porches and Facebook. Take your time and get it right.
News vs. Click-Bait. Does shoving a microphone in an official’s face get the quote the public needs to hear or simply provide exhilarating video? If the intent is to inform the public, wouldn’t it make sense to allow the interviewee time to collect the facts and present them in a clear manner? Again, having worked in news, I understand that sometimes it is necessary to show up at someone’s office, but there’s a better way to approach it. Avoid the ambush and get the right quote.
Tact and Timing. If that spokesperson just won’t get back to you on a crucial topic and timing is of the essence, it may be appropriate to pay a visit. But, there should still be some semblance of respect for their work, life and space. There is a big difference between approaching someone with:
“Hi, I’ve been trying to reach you and would appreciate a quick response to (subject). Thank you.”
(Frantic bull rush down a corridor)
“You owe people answers and you can’t run forever! What do you have to say for yourself and to the people about (subject)?”
One provides a two-way respect and possible sensible answer while the other just attempts to boost ratings and a sense of action on a topic that could be incredibly mundane. If it feels like Jack Bauer is running the interviews, it’s likely gotcha reporting at its worst.
The Whole Mostly Truth. Unfortunately, there have been some bad apples in the PR field that have tainted our own reputation. Honesty is always crucial even if we can’t say anything at this time due to privacy laws or an active investigation. PR pros run into that a lot with medical (HIPAA) or equal employment issues. In the end, the truth bites less than a lie.
Timeliness. Don’t use the 24-hour news cycle against the media or yourself. Take the appropriate time to discuss the issue with your client and draft a response, but don’t just push off the media. Nothing will burn a reporter more than getting a response at 6:35pm when they requested a response by 2pm. Respect the process and the reporter.
Don’t Do This.
Enough said right?
The list of tips for journalists and PR pros could go on for days. However, these feasible tips serve as a starting point to get news back on the right track.
What other tips do you have to bring back respectful journalism?