When the News Calls Refusing an interview is bad PR move

May 15, 2009 07:00 PM

The phone rings. It's a reporter calling about tainted milk that was just removed from a local supermarket's dairy case. How should you react?

If an emergency situation involving milk were to occur in your community, or anywhere in the U.S., there is no question a reporter will not think to ask, according to Kristen Miranda, consumer reporter for WBTV, the CBS affiliate in Charlotte, N.C.

"It will not be one story, but a series of stories,” Miranda says. "It could involve team coverage with several different angles broken out separately during a news broadcast. If it is a significant emergency, know that this story will be in the news for some time.”

Miranda discussed the topic with a standing-room-only audience of producers, researchers and industry representatives at the NMC annual meeting in Charlotte in January.

As food safety climbs up the list of consumer concerns, the news media are poised to cover emergency situations that impact public health and security. Whether it's for television, radio or the newspaper, reporters will pursue the "who, what, where, when, why and how” formula they apply to every story.

"The most important information for reporters to get across to viewers immediately would be any information that can shed light on what this emergency is and who it impacts most,” Miranda says.

Is it babies, families, people who purchased a specific brand of milk? Is it milk from a particular store or with a certain expiration date? Should those who drank the milk visit a doctor? Is it important to return the milk to the store where it was purchased?

This should be the very first information the manufacturer or company should share with the media, along with how to remedy the problem.

The Charlotte reporter, who also serves as WBTV's Saturday morning news anchor, says if she were covering this story, her quest for answers would begin with a call to the company or producer behind the problem. Her second call would be to someone personally impacted by the emergency to ask them to share their story on television. "These stories can be very powerful,” she says.

While a company or producer is under no obligation to share information with the media, Miranda believes it's in their best interest to do so.

"When answers are not readily available, it gives the perception that there is a reason to hold off on explaining what happened,” she says. "It creates even more questions for reporters to ask.”

Timely return calls are "incredibly important, even if it's just to say an answer is coming soon,” she adds.

The bottom line is that viewers want to know how any situation impacts them, how to handle it and whether they have to worry that this emergency could recur in the future.

"The sooner a company or producer makes that information available to the media, the faster we can get that information to the people who buy your products,” Miranda says.

Bonus content:

Watch Kristen Miranda

Tips for responding to a reporter

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