Tuesday, February 19, 2013

How NOT to Handle a "Gotcha" Interview

Deborah Smith has been trying to get a dangerous tree near her house cut down for the past two years.

The St. Louis woman has regularly asked Roberts Brothers Properties—which owns the property next to her house—to chop it down.

The company was unresponsive, so Smith contacted KSDK reporter Mike Rush, who paid a visit to Roberts Brothers. What happened next was rather stunning.

The receptionist not only refused to buzz the reporter in, but hid under her desk for half an hour, occasionally peeking up to see if the reporter was still there. In so doing, she gave the reporter exactly what he wanted—a great visual that made his piece that much more interesting.

It’s a good reminder of why I always remind companies to provide their receptionists with basic media training, especially when they know that a reporter is working on a story in which they’re involved.

Making matters worse, a Roberts Brothers representative named Michael States showed up and made even more damaging comments on camera (he returned a short time later with the chastened tone he should have employed from the start).

The most unfortunate part of this video is that the punishment was much more severe than the crime. If Roberts Brothers had chopped down the tree two years ago—or even the same day the reporter started working on this story—this wouldn’t have made the news.

Instead, the company let a minor issue become a referendum on its overall competence, all for the price of chopping down a tree.

(via Chris Syme, Poynter.org)

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