Manage Your MessageThe Internet and digital devices have made news instantaneous, continuous and ubiquitous. Ordinary citizens, small municipalities, and businesses are not immune to being subjected to a voracious public appetite for the sensational. It is not just celebrities anymore that feel the heat of the spotlight. In this 2-part series, I will give 5 tips on how to respond to the media.

Most people are not prepared to withstand the scrutiny and the intensity of media interest when it comes their way. In the distant past, town gossip could ruin a person’s reputation, running them out of town; however, in today’s instant and continual news cycle, an entire globe can become a witness to misfortune. There is no place to hide.

You probably cannot even imagine anything that would put you or your business at the center of a media storm, but that is why you need to prepare for this contingency as you would any other emergency. A crisis is a crisis because it strikes without warning. When something terrible happens, while you are reeling from the effects of the disaster, a second wave quickly follows—this is the media storm that brings its own challenges and dangers.

When disaster strikes, most people are not prepared for the second wave–the media tsunami—when satellite trucks, news vans, and an army of reporters—all competing for the same story—descend upon an unsuspecting populace or person. It may not happen, but it can happen. It has happened.

As a communication professional in higher education for 20 years, I encountered nearly every possible crisis with its resulting news media onslaught. Here are 5 tips tested in the field—some learned the hard way. It is my hope that once you have absorbed the information provided here, you will put together a “crisis communication” plan of your own and memorize these 5 tips before you respond to any reporter or news agency.

1. Don’t Panic

They are not “out to get you.” They are out to get a story to please their editor or news director, or fulfill their blog quota. There are some unscrupulous reporters whose goal is to rise in the media ranks as quickly as possible by sensationalizing the mundane, but they are relatively rare. It is my experience that most reporters have a sense of integrity and follow journalistic ethics.

2. Know Your Facts

Do not guess or assume anything. If you are not sure about something, tell the reporter you do not know. Let the reporter know that you will call him/her back when you have the information, or refer the reporter to another source you believe will be reliable.

Next week, we will continue with 3 more tips on how to respond to the media.