While doing interviews for a magazine story on a major disaster, I was stonewalled by a source I wanted to interview about climate change.
I'd reached out to a university professor for comment about climate change and some context in the midst of the disastrous weather. The current message in the media was that the flooding was going to intensify over the next decades due to changing weather trends.
I said I was hoping to talk about what we can learn from this year’s weather patterns and what the future trend looks like.
Immediately, I became his outlet for past gripes with reporters.
"Sure. But I only have one condition - that I get to read and approve final copy."
Uh oh. Houston, we have a problem.
He explained: "Too many times I have been 'burnt' by journalists who take things I said out of context for the purpose of making statements sensationalized."
I tried to sympathize and compromise – a good 1-2 punch combo when trying to win over a source. "I understand about getting burnt," I said. "I’ve done communications over the years. My editor won’t let me provide the full article, but I can send over the section that has your information in it if that would set you at ease."
He wasn't budging though.
"Scientific organizations are telling their members how to deal with the media. Number one recommendation is read and approve final copy. We are fighting back on (oh I hate to use this Trumped up term) fake news! Actually maybe its poor journalism that we a reacting to!"
Apologies to the professor, but no credible media organization will allow sources to read a story before it goes to print.
I find it troubling that scientific organizations are telling scientists and researchers to completely avoid the media. If they don't get their informed opinions into papers, websites, TV, radio and magazines, that space will still be filled with ideas and opinions – just not theirs. That's not good for anyone.
I get his frustration. There's obviously a need to push back against sensationalized journalism and taking information out of context. Those are two of the biggest risks PR people face when talking to the media. But it's brought on by the overall media market climate and that's a slow ship to steer.
The bottom line is, when you don't deal wisely with reporters, you get shut out of the public conversation. And that's not good communication.