How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Gotcha Journalism

We live in a society that’s obsessed with controversy and scandal. News outlets are constantly trying to break the next big story involving conflict, corruption, shocking quotes, and other controversial acts. It’s all about catching someone with their hand in the cookie jar, so journalists can get their story on the front page or create a buzz across the internet.

Reporter InterviewThe buzz phrase used to describe this style of reporting is “gotcha journalism.” It involves specific methods of interviewing that are designed to entrap the interviewee into saying something that damages their image and credibility.

If you’re the spokesperson for your company, you have to always remain vigilant so you don’t slip up and fall victim to unfair reporting. How can you do it?

  • Research reporters before agreeing to an interview – Take a look at some of the reporter’s past work. Does he (or she) have a history of entrapping interviewees with harsh questions? Does he have a track record of breaking controversial stories? Is he what you would call a gotcha journalist? You need to pick your battles wisely, and be willing to turn down an interviewer if you suspect things could go south.
  • Try to avoid on-the-fly interviews – As spokesperson for your company, it’s your job to eliminate as many PR variables and keep things as controlled as possible. The lower the risk, the better the chance is of having a successful interview. When you take an on-the-fly interview, anything can happen because you haven’t done your homework. You’re in an uncontrolled environment asking for trouble.
  • Be proactive rather than reactive – You have to be looking forward, trying to anticipate issues before they occur. Don’t wait for reporters to dig up negative information. It can be better to release it yourself first if it’s going to get uncovered at some point. This allows you to control the message.
  • Think before opening your mouth – I learned this lesson as a kid in school. Whenever you blurt out something without thinking, more times than not, it’s going to end badly. When getting interviewed, take a moment after each question to collect your thoughts and give the best possible answer.
  • You’re always on the record – It’s like the Miranda warning, “Anything you say can and will be used against you.” There isn’t really such a thing as “off the record.” If you say something juicy off the record, a reporter will find a way to confirm it and put it on the record. Remember, “You have the right to remain silent.”
  • Stay on message – Try to steer the conversation as much as possible back to your main message and key bullet points. Use transitional phrases to guide answers back to these messages, and emphasize the positive while avoiding saying anything negative.
  • Practice makes perfect – The better prepared you are for an interview, the less likely it is that you’ll slip up and say something damaging. Practice the interview with a friend or co-worker, and focus on being able to deliver your key points clearly and confidently.

Have you even been a victim of gotcha journalism?

This article is written by Mickie Kennedy, founder of eReleases (, the online leader in affordable press release distribution. Download your free copy of 7 Cheap PR Tactics for Success in Any Economy here:

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