When it comes to interviews, is it better to say more or less? You always want to get your opinions across but sometimes, that can hurt you more than help you. That being said, you truly cannot overstate the importance of censorship when speaking to reporters. In a lot of cases, most personal opinions and beliefs are better left unsaid– especially for the more controversial subjects. By asking to have something be “off the record”, it avoids having that material being printed; yet you and your reporter may have very different views on this. Reporters will look for any little loopholes around this to get that information published. After all, doesn’t asking for something to be off the record imply that you’re about to spill some serious news-worthy material? You bet. Recent interviews with Bill Cosby and executives from Uber Car Service sparked major controversy around this subject – the question remains, is anything truly off the record?
In an earlier interview from November 6th, Bill Cosby sat down for a few questions with the Associated Press. What started with some simple questions about Cosby’s promoting of the African American Art exhibit escalated quickly; the reporter started digging into the rape scandal surrounding Cosby. Cosby explained he did not want to talk about it, and also asked that the footage would not be shown. “I hear you, I will tell that to my editors,” the reporter responded. The reporter gave him the impression that they would not air the footage… and then did. It’s cases like these that show just how fine the line is between on and off the record with journalists. Sometimes final decisions are out of their hands. Technically, the reporter did not confirm the footage would not be shown (saying he would ‘tell that to his editors’). But Cosby thought otherwise, seemingly getting himself played. Even when asking not to talk about it, that alone raises certain suspicions; both Cosby and the AP reporter knew that to be true.
And this little on-and-off-the-record drama played out again when Uber Car Service found themselves spilling too much at a recent “dinner-turned-interview” with BuzzFeed; but this one goes deeper than that. In the typical media “meet-and-greets” held by Uber, it was acknowledged by everyone that everything said would be off the record; well, almost everyone. Ben Smith, editor-in-chief at BuzzFeed, seemingly unaware of this, released quotes and snippets from a conversation with Michael Wolff of USA Today, stating that Uber has the power to investigate the personal lives on journalists. The reports state that these comments were made during a late night of drinking, leaving many questioning the true credibility of these statements. Clearly Ben Smith should have been informed that everything was not to be reported, but were the statements about Uber policy meant to be taken seriously? Or were they just an angry, drunken rant? Either way, the story proves yet again the importance of censorship around journalists, you never know what is going to get out.
All in all, the lesson here is to always watch what you say when speaking to reporters. Nobody wants their opinion to be misheard, but saying too much can be detrimental to not only you, but your brand/company as well. Reveal too little and you’ll raise suspicion– say too much and it’ll turn into a bad representation; there’s just no way to keep it simple. So for future interviews, practice good PR skills and don’t ever assume your comments won’t be shared. Even when it seems to be off the record, some information may be too good for some reporters to pass-up; Can you blame them though? After all, that is their job.