How to Deal with Reporters During a Crisis

Reporters provide few surprises in a crisis situation.

  • They want to get the basic information easily and quickly, usually with some kind of human interest angle. Print reporters usually will need and use more information than their colleagues representing broadcast media. Newspaper reporters are interested in basic facts for today’s edition and background and implication for tomorrow’s edition. Broadcast journalists, on the other hand, will want less but will be in more of a hurry and will seek more updates.
  • Sometimes the media will be on the scene. In other situations you will need to initiate contact. This should be done as soon as the basic facts are in hand. The initial contact should be followed with a formal statement, including any updated information and plans for investigating the incident. Media will expect: complete honest information; background material; some indication of how the organization intends to proceed; information about the impact on your staff and volunteers; regular updates and after-the-crisis follow up.

Your spokesperson should be forthright in dealing with media questions. There are, however, some questions he or she simply cannot and should not answer, including:

  • money estimates of damage
  • insurance coverage
  • speculation as to the cause of the incident
  • allocation of blame
  • anything “off the record”

Your spokesperson should not respond to media questions with “no comment” because this answer can imply a lack of cooperation, an attempt to hide something or a lack of concern. There are more appropriate responses when he or she either doesn’t have or is not at liberty to give certain information. Some examples might be:

  • “We’ve just learned about the situation and are trying to get more complete information now.”
  • ” All our efforts are directed at bringing the situation under control, so I’m not going to speculate on the cause of the incident.”
  • “I’m not the authority on that subject. Let me have our Mr. Jones call you right back.”
  • “We’re preparing a statement on that now. Can I fax it to you in about two hours?”
  • Keep a log of media calls and return calls as promptly as possible. A log can help you keep track of issues being raised by reporters, and give you a record of which media showed the most interest.