Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Don't shoot the messenger!

Last week, daytime talk show host Montel Williams was involved in a heated confrontation with a reporter from the Savannah Morning-News.

To sum it up, Williams became upset during an interview following one of the reporter’s questions. Not only did he terminate the interview before it was finished, but he allowed his anger to get the best of him. When a group of the newspaper’s reporters returned to the interview site later that day for an unrelated story assignment, Williams confronted one of them and allegedly threatened her saying: “Don't look at me like that. Do you know who I am? I'm a big star, and I can look you up, find where you live and blow you up."


While Williams later apologized for his unwarranted outburst, the damage was already done. Not only did he end the interview before he had a chance to share his side of the story, but he also tarnished his image in the media—and public– eye.

As a publicist who majored in journalism and once worked as a reporter, I have a few words of wisdom for authors to remember before every interview. Even if a question might tick you off, or you think you’re being “set up for a slip up,” don’t let your anger get the best of you. Take the high road. Trust me; it’ll be better in the long run.

Of course it is important to know your facts before an interview. To know what kind of story the reporter is working on. To know what kind of things you might want to talk about. To know what your role is in the interview. But it’s equally important to know the role of the media, especially if you are planning to use the media as a way to promote your message, build your platform and boost your credibility.

In my multitude of journalism training and experience, I heard time and time again that the central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society. To do their job effectively, a reporter might have to ask nosy, and sometimes irksome, questions. Coverage in mass media, if any, is not paid for; therefore interpretation of the message is in the hands of the media.

If you come across as standoffish, annoyed, or simply displeased with the reporter’s questions during an interview, you are going to come across that way in the article.

Remember, that if you have valuable information to share that can add to a debate, the media can be your friend. Don’t get angry if you don’t like the direction an interview is headed. Don’t lash back at a reporter if you don’t like the story they ran.

Be informative. Be happy to share the information. And trust that the reporter will live up to the journalistic standard of sharing the truth.

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