I recently received an email from a reader who was arranging an interview for a client.
He wondered whether it was possible to put a written agreement in place with the producer prior to the interview that would prohibit the crew from using any ‘gotcha’ moments in which an unexpected document or video clip might be produced during the interview.
My answer was no. Not only could that request be disclosed on the air, making the audience suspicious, but it would make the producer wonder what big controversy he was missing.
Still, the question made me wonder: What pre-conditions are reasonable when negotiating with a reporter prior to an interview?
If a reporter is visiting your office, you can reach an agreement that the reporter is only allowed to quote the agreed-upon spokesperson(s). In other words, if reporters strike up a conversation with random staff members in the bathroom, they wouldn’t be able to use those comments in his story.
You may be able to negotiate what the reporter can and cannot shoot. For example, you might ask the reporter not to shoot any employees’ computer screens or papers on their desks, since those shots could reveal private customer information.
Depending on the story, you might not want to allow photography. If you work for a car company that is creating a new prototype, for example, you might allow the journalist to see it without allowing any photos of the vehicle.
Although most interviews should be on-the-record, you may occasionally face circumstances that require an “on background” or “off-the-record” interview. You should reach any agreements prior to an interview (these guidelines will help). And you can request to be identified in a specific manner.
If you suspect that a reporter is going to go on a fishing expedition, you can negotiate the length of the interview in advance.
Here’s where things get tricky. You can request to limit the interview either to topics you do want to discuss (e.g. a basketball coach who wants to discuss his team’s latest game), or to avoid topics you don’t want to discuss (e.g. your star center’s recent drunk driving arrest). But even if reporters agree to such a pre-condition, they often disclose the very pre-condition to their audiences (in some cases, they’re ethically bound to do so). So before you make such a request, ask yourself whether that disclosure could be more damaging than answering the tough questions.
7. Sensitive Information
Occasionally, reporters may be willing to exclude certain information from their stories—if there’s a legitimate reason to avoid such information. For example, many reporters would be willing to exclude information that could humiliate an innocent person or that contains sensitive national security details. But I’ve also worked with reporters who agreed to kill sensitive parts of a client’s story today in exchange for an exclusive when we were ready to release the story at some future point.
What have I missed? What other pre-conditions have you negotiated with a reporter in the past? Please leave your experiences in the comments section below.