Whether you sell chocolate cookies based on your grandma’s recipe or your business is suddenly involved in a windfall, scandal, or trend, it is likely you will someday interact with a reporter. Thanks to the Internet, you may be quoted, sometimes at length, without actually being interviewed. I call these interviews Stealth Interviews.
Chances are good that a traditional or new media reporter is looking for a quote that reinforces or gives contrast to his/her point of view and something you once said online fit the bill. The quote could come from a forum, a blog or list comment, an exchange in a social networking forum, an article you wrote, even an email.
You will definitely be quoted out of context in a Stealth Interview because there is no context. The interview never happened. But you’re quoted nonetheless, and you did make the statement. You just didn’t think you were saying it to a reporter.
The Internet not only brings a new component to media interviews but also offers a new definition of reporter. Thanks to the Internet, and particularly to inexpensive, easy-to-use blogging software, everyone can be a publisher. A post by an influential blogger or list moderator, or a comment made by a complete stranger in the feedback section of a media site or chat room can have as much – or more – impact as a story in a major national news outlet.
How Not to Come Across Like a Jerk
Unless you’re paying close attention, you may never even know you’ve been included in a story via a Stealth Interview. Whether that encounter hurts you or helps you has a lot to do with whether you know how not to come across like a jerk.
The stealth interview that has come into wider use as the popularity of the Internet has grown. Journalists of all stripes are overworked, time stressed and, let’s face it, lazy. So how do Stealth Interviews come about?
If you said something brilliant or something wonderful was said about you, you’re in great shape. If you ever wrote an insipid or nasty comment in a chat room, responded less than perfectly to an interviewer’s question in a story that was printed, posted or streamed online it won’t be a secret.
Most writers begin their research online. They’ll type in the topic in a search engine and see what and who comes up. They’ll follow links to several sites and scan the material to see if anything there is usable for the story. If they find names of experts within these sites, they will make note of them and then enter those names in Google’s search box to see what comes up. And, voila! you’re a source for a Stealth Interview.
Online, for all the world to see, will be every post you ever made to a blog, forum, discussion group or mail list; every mention of your name on Websites, newsletters and blogs anywhere on the Internet; articles you have written or been mentioned or featured in; and if they are properly search engine optimized: all the press releases you have issued.
Online Content is Forever
Because of the way search engines are set up, every citation stays in their index until someone at the search engine company removes them. Sites that are long gone are still indexed and still come up in search results. A site containing information about you may long ago have gone belly up, but another site, or a blogger may have included information from the defunct site in his/her site, where it will be preserved, and visible to search engines, indefinitely. Blog software automatically archives each post and so you better believe, posts have legs.
A journalist or blogger seeking information on you or a quote from you can easily find these entries and pick them up. Bloggers, for example, tend to quote from and comment on news stories published by other bloggers or journalists. Once something appeared that was incorrect, even if it was later corrected, it can come back to haunt you over and over.
Take very much to heart the fact that everything you write or say can come back to haunt you, especially on the Internet. Online journalists aren’t the only ones using the Stealth Interview. Busy traditional journalists in a hurry or in another time zone are just as likely to use the technique.
Be Vigilant, Even Paranoid
• Search the Internet to see what is available online about your company and its executives. Put all applicable topics into the search engines, LexisNexis and Factiva to see what comes up. Or use a service like Media Watch that will scan the Web seeking mentions about you. That way, you’ll at least know what is available to reporters.
• Make sure your Online Press Room on the company Website has enough information to make a journalist’s job easy. Include the items that wired journalists use for multi-media stories such as audio and video clips, downloadable photos and other artwork, speeches, articles that have been written about the company as well as press releases that have been issued.
And for god’s sake make sure that contact information for a publicist is prominently featured.
Make it absolutely clear to your executives and your clients that they should not respond to ANY interview request about you until they speak to you first. The last thing you want is a clueless executive answering questions on a whim.
And next time you’re tempted to fire off a flippant comment on a blog or forum, think twice.