It's a Trap: Handling Tough Media Questions


All people could benefit from media training, but nonprofit leaders should make it a priority because getting covered accurately in the media is essential to growing your organization. Two essential things I learned early on have stuck with me. First, even though a reporter may be interviewing you, you are not talking to them. You are talking to their readers, viewers or listeners. When you know this, you will be far more effective at getting results. Second, don't answer the question asked of you. Respond with what you want to say.

But there are also traps. Below are some tricky media situations and how to handle them.

Loaded Question

A loaded question is confusing or convoluted. It may contain false or confusing context. Restate, and then answer the question, correcting misinformation and framing it in your favor.

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Extreme Choices

This question tries to box you into only a few answers. It’s a trap. Restate the question and respond with what you want to say.

“What If” Questions

Try not to answer hypothetical questions. It usually doesn’t serve you well. The reporter may be looking for predictions or even drama. Only respond to real situations. Don’t speculate. Say this… “Regardless of how the election goes, we are fighting for families.” “I am not in the business of predictions, but I can say…”

Unverified Third-Party Statements

Do not respond to hearsay, quotes you haven’t verified or documents you haven’t seen. Ask to see the quote, hopefully from some news outlet. If the reporter says, “The Pope today said XYZ about immigrants. What will that mean for your organization?” If you haven’t verified the quote, say “If that is true, we stand in agreement that….” Or even better, “We are always happy to get religious support for our cause. This means we…”

Rapid Fire Questions

These are questions asked quickly and in succession with little time to respond. Don’t feel intimidated or like you need to match the reporter’s pace or intensity. Don’t tolerate constant interruptions. Only answer what you choose to answer. “Those are all great questions, Jackie, but it all comes down to our mission…”

Confusing Questions

The reporter may be uninformed or careless in their understanding of the issue. Reframe it so it makes sense and then address the question or comment.

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So, this happened to the ACLU…