Guidelines for Media Interaction

As a young minister, I had the rich blessing of being mentored by Richard C. Halverson. Among the many nuggets of wisdom he shared with me was, “You are wise to learn from your mistakes the first time.” He added, “You are really wise to learn from the mistakes of others.”

In dealing with the media, here is an opportunity to gain some wisdom from my mistakes:

  1. The news media typically calls you looking for a quote that fits a story that has already been written.
  2. The news media works to a deadline.
  3. The news media typically calls you right on the deadline expecting you to drop everything so that you can talk to them.
  4. In a rush, the media wants me to rush. When I am rushed, I make a lot of mistakes.
  5. The news media’s deadline is not my deadline.
  6. I choose to respond to the news media when it meets my schedule, not theirs. I cannot afford to make mistakes, especially with media that is not sympathetic to the EPC. If I miss the media’s deadline, so be it.
  7. Just because the media asks you a question doesn’t mean you have to answer it. While they don’t like it, “No comment” is OK for you to say.

Don’t be surprised if you are misquoted. Unfortunately, some reporters are sloppy or need to “adjust” your quote to fit the story that he/she has already written. At the same time, honest mistakes occur. We all make them.

It is good practice to write down your answers to a reporter’s questions. Remember, the reporter is (supposedly) doing the same, and normally will ask you to repeat yourself in an effort to get your answer right. This means you too have time to write your answer, and having your answer in writing can be a huge benefit.

If you are misquoted in a way that misrepresents you or the church, you have a number of options:

  1. Confront the reporter
  2. Contact the “higher-ups” at the reporter’s organization
  3. Distribute a press release that calls attention to the fact that you’ve been misquoted, and to ensure that your correct comments are made public.

My office has done all of these in the last eight years.

As a final thought, please know that many of our EPC churches have faithful, committed members who work in the media. The vast majority of reporters are honest, hard-working, and strive for excellence in their work. Their job can be difficult, and telling all sides of a potentially controversial story can be elusive.

At the same time, the media is in business (as are all businesses) to make a profit, and advertising revenue is drawn like a magnet to the juicy, the controversial, or the dramatic. To paraphrase Pitt the Younger from the movie “Amazing Grace,” as your friend, I urge caution.